Skip to main content
Log in

Quantifying the contributions of age, sex, methods, and urbanicity to the changing suicide rate trends in South Korea, 2001–2016

  • Original Paper
  • Published:
Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology Aims and scope Submit manuscript



Suicide rates in South Korea have been one of the highest in the world. The aim of this study is to quantify the contributions of age, sex, method, and place of residence to the trends of the suicide rates between 2001 and 2016 in South Korea.


Using the suicide data obtained from the South Korean National Death Registration data set for the years 2001–2016, a Joinpoint regression analysis was conducted to determine if there was a significant change in the trend of suicide rates. Next, a decomposition analysis method was used to quantify the contributions of age, sex, method, and places of residence to the changes in the suicide rates.


Suicide rates increased between 2001 and 2010, and decreased between 2010 and 2016. Among all the age groups, the 65–79 age group contributed most to the rise (18% in men and 7% in women) and fall (− 15% in men and − 14% in women) of suicide rates. Men contributed much more than women to the increasing trend of suicide rate (63.0% vs. 37.0%). Hanging was the key method of suicide, dominating the ups and downs of the suicide rates. The rates of suicide by pesticide poisoning have been decreasing since 2005 and suicide by charcoal burning continued to increase against a decreasing trend of suicide rate during the period of 2010–2016. The gap of the metropolitan–city–rural suicide rates was narrowing during the period under study, although the rural areas remained to have the highest suicide rates.


The ups and downs of suicide rates in South Korea were not uniform across different sociodemographic groups. Age, sex, method, and place of residence contributed differently to the changes in suicide rates. Suicide prevention measures can be more focused on certain age–sex–method–region subgroups.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Naghavi M, Global Burden of Disease Self-Harm Collaborators (2019) Global, regional, and national burden of suicide mortality 1990 to 2016: systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. BMJ 364:l94

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. OECD Data (2019) Suicide rates. Organization for economic co-operation and development. Accessed 22 Aug 2019

  3. OECD (2019) Society at a glance 2019: OECD social indicators. OECD Publishing, Paris.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  4. Chan CH, Caine ED, Chang SS, Lee WJ, Cha ES, Yip PS (2015) The impact of improving suicide death classification in South Korea: a comparison with Japan and Hong Kong. PLoS ONE 10:e0125730

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Lee SU, Park JI, Lee S, Oh IH, Choi JM, Oh CM (2018) Changing trends in suicide rates in South Korea from 1993 to 2016: a descriptive study. BMJ Open 8:e023144

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Chan CH, Caine ED, You S, Yip PS (2015) Changes in South Korean urbanicity and suicide rates, 1992 to 2012. BMJ Open 5:e009451

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Kim SY, Kim MH, Kawachi I, Cho Y (2011) Comparative epidemiology of suicide in South Korea and Japan: effects of age, gender and suicide methods. Crisis 32:5–14

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Fu KW, Chan CH (2013) A study of the impact of thirteen celebrity suicides on subsequent suicide rates in South Korea from 2005 to 2009. PLoS ONE 8:e53870

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Chang SS, Gunnell D, Sterne JA, Lu TH, Cheng AT (2009) Was the economic crisis 1997–1998 responsible for rising suicide rates in East/Southeast Asia? A time-trend analysis for Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand. Soc Sci Med 68:1322–1331

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Cha ES, Chang SS, Gunnell D, Eddleston M, Khang YH, Lee WJ (2016) Impact of paraquat regulation on suicide in South Korea. Int J Epidemiol 45:470–479

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Cha ES, Chang SS, Choi Y, Lee WJ (2019) Trends in pesticide suicide in South Korea, 1983–2014. Epidemiol Psychiatr Sci 29:1–9

    Google Scholar 

  12. Park BG (2008) Uneven development, inter-scalar tensions, and the politics of decentralization in South Korea. Int J Urban Reg Res 32:40–59

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Stack S (2000) Suicide: a 15-year review of the sociological literature. Part II: modernization and social integration perspectives. Suicide Life Threat Behav 30:163–176

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Gould MS (2001) Suicide and the media. Ann N Y Acad Sci 932:200–221

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Stack S (2003) Media coverage as a risk factor in suicide. J Epidemiol Community Health 57:238–240

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Chen YY, Yip PSF, Lee C, Fan HF, Fu KW (2010) Economic fluctuations and suicide: a comparison of Taiwan and Hong Kong. Soc Sci Med 71:2083–2090

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Rehkopf DH, Buka SL (2006) The association between suicide and the socio-economic characteristics of geographical areas: a systematic review. Psychol Med 36:145–157

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Statistics Korea (2019) Statistics Korea. Accessed 10 Apr 2019

  19. Hitosugi M, Nagai T, Tokudome S (2009) Proposal of new ICD code for suicide by charcoal burning. J Epidemiol Community Health 63:862–863

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Liu KY, Beautrais A, Caine E, Chan K, Chao A, Conwell Y, Law C, Lee D, Li P, Yip PSF (2007) Charcoal burning suicides in Hong Kong and urban Taiwan: an illustration of the impact of a novel suicide method on overall regional rates. J Epidemiol Community Health 61:248–253

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Lin JJ, Chen LH, Huang SM, Lu TH (2008) Problems in estimating the number of suicides by charcoal burning in Taiwan. J Epidemiol Community Health 62:566

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. City Population (2019) SOUTH KOREA: Administrative division. City Population. Accessed 10 Apr 2019

  23. Kitagawa EM (1955) Components of a difference between two rates. J Am Stat Assoc 50:1168–1194

    Google Scholar 

  24. Lee J (2017) The labor market in South Korea, 2000–2016. IZA World Labor 405

  25. Chung YW, Kang SJ, Matsubayashi T, Sawada Y, Ueda M (2016) The effectiveness of platform screen doors for the prevention of subway suicides in South Korea. J Affect Disord 194:80–83

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Lee SY (2015) Policy options for the improvement of suicide prevention programs. Health Welf Policy Forum 4:34–39

    Google Scholar 

  27. Conwell Y, Van Orden K, Caine ED (2011) Suicide in older adults. Psychiatr Clin N Am 34:451–468

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Pritchard C, Baldwin DS (2002) Elderly suicide rates in Asian and English-speaking countries. Acta Psychiatr Scand 105:271–275

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. United Nations ESCAP (2017) Policy Brief: population ageing in East and North-East Asia and its implications for sustainable development. United Nations ESCAP. Accessed 5 Mar 2019

  30. United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (2009) Mainstreaming ageing. UNECE Policy Brief on Ageing. Accessed 5 Mar 2019

  31. Chen YY, Chen M, Lui CSM, Yip PSF (2017) Female labour force participation and suicide rates in the world. Soc Sci Med 195:61–67

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Yip PSF, Yousuf S, Chan CH, Yung T, Wu KC (2015) The roles of culture and gender in the relationship between divorce and suicide risk: a meta-analysis. Soc Sci Med 128:87–94

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Park S, Song YJ, Kim J, Ki M, Shin JY, Kwon YM, Lim J (2018) Age, period, and cohort effects on suicide mortality in South Korea, 1992–2015. Int J Environ Res Public Health 15:1580

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Ajdacic-Gross V, Weiss MG, Ring M, Hepp U, Bopp M, Gutzwiller F, Rossler W (2008) Methods of suicide: international suicide patterns derived from the WHO mortality database. Bull World Health Organ 86:726–732

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Gunnell D, Bennewith O, Hawton K, Simkin S, Kapur N (2005) The epidemiology and prevention of suicide by hanging: a systematic review. Int J Epidemiol 34:433–442

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Chan KP, Yip PSF, Au J, Lee DT (2005) Charcoal-burning suicide in post-transition Hong Kong. Br J Psychiatry 186:67–73

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Yip PSF, Law CK, Fu KW, Law YW, Wong PW, Xu Y (2010) Restricting the means of suicide by charcoal burning. Br J Psychiatry 196:241–242

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Chen YY, Yip PSF, Lee CK, Gunnell D, Wu KC (2015) The diffusion of a new method of suicide: charcoal-burning suicide in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 50:227–236

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Tsai CW, Gunnell D, Chou YH, Kuo CJ, Lee MB, Chen YY (2011) Why do people choose charcoal burning as a method of suicide? An interview based study of survivors in Taiwan. J Affect Disord 131:402–407

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Chen YY, Yip PSF, Chan CH, Fu KW, Chang SS, Lee WJ, Gunnell D (2014) The impact of a celebrity's suicide on the introduction and establishment of a new method of suicide in South Korea. Arch Suicide Res 18:221–226

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Chen YY, Chen F, Chang SS, Wong J, Yip PSF (2015) Assessing the efficacy of restricting access to barbecue charcoal for suicide prevention in Taiwan: a community-based intervention trial. PLoS ONE 10:e0133809

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Chang SS, Lu TH, Sterne JA, Eddleston M, Lin JJ, Gunnell D (2012) The impact of pesticide suicide on the geographic distribution of suicide in Taiwan: a spatial analysis. BMC Public Health 12:260

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Chang SS, Gunnell D, Wheeler BW, Yip PSF, Sterne JA (2010) The evolution of the epidemic of charcoal-burning suicide in Taiwan: a spatial and temporal analysis. PLoS Med 7:e1000212

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Stark CR, Riordan V, Dougall N (2016) Rurality and suicide. In: O'Connor RC, Pirkis J (eds) The international handbook of suicide prevention, 2nd edn. Wiley, New York, pp 569–593

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  45. Yip PSF, Caine ED, Kwok RCL, Chen YY (2012) A decompositional analysis of the relative contribution of age, sex and methods of suicide to the changing patterns of suicide in Taipei City, 2004–2006. Inj Prev 18:187–192

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


YYC was supported by Grants from the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST 108-2314-B-532-007-MY2), the National Health Research Institutes (NHRI-EX108-10818PI), and the Department of Health Taipei City Government (10801-62-019), and PSFY was supported by the General Research Grant (no: 17117816). The authors are grateful for the useful comments of the reviewers.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Paul Siu Fai Yip.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all the authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary file1 (DOCX 80 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Chen, YY., Yang, CT., Cha, ES. et al. Quantifying the contributions of age, sex, methods, and urbanicity to the changing suicide rate trends in South Korea, 2001–2016. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 55, 1121–1132 (2020).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: