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Suicide at Symbolic Ages

Death on Stocktaking Occasions
  • David P. Phillips
  • Daniel G. Smith

Abstract

More than 50 years ago, when Freud was about to turn 80, he asked Ernest Jones, “What is the secret meaning of celebrating the big round numbers of one’s life?” (Sampson & Sampson, 1985, p.152). Freud’s question has not been answered, or even addressed, since he first posed it, despite the widespread recognition that some ages have more symbolic significance than others. Professional works on the life cycle (Erikson, 1959; Birren, 1964; Riley, Abeles, & Teitelbaum, 1982; Kakar, 1979; Levinson, 1978; Colarusso & Nemiroff, 1981; Falicov, 1988; Karp, 1988) have not systematically discussed the psychological consequences of reaching symbolic ages like 40, 50, 60, 70, or 80 (aside from attention to the psychological impact of retirement at age 65). The topic of symbolic ages also seems to have been largely overlooked in literary works and entirely overlooked in research on suicide and in popular psychological discussions of aging (Sheehy, 1976). Failure to address this subject is puzzling in view of the very general tendency to regard certain ages as symbolic milestones, sometimes approached with celebration, but often regarded with dread and foreboding.

Keywords

Randomization Test Paired Difference Death Date Adult Life Span Married Male 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • David P. Phillips
    • 1
  • Daniel G. Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of California at San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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