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Sweden is not Finland

I came across this:

While some Scandinavian countries are known to have high levels of suicide, many of them – including Sweden, Finland and Iceland – ranked in the top 10 for happiness. White believes that the suicide rates have more to do with the very dark winters in the region, rather than the quality of life.

Jouni’s response:

Technically it’s correct – “While *some* Scandnavian countries … have high levels of suicide … Sweden, Finland and Iceland ranked in the top 10 for happiness…”

That “some Scandinavian country” is Finland; Sweden (or Iceland – surprisingly) has roughly 1/2 the suicide rate of Finland.

5 Comments

  1. Interesting argument – but there is one problem.

    If we take Sweden, the southern parts of the country (think Malmö) have 6,5 hours of daylight in December, Stockholm 5,5 hours, Umeå (where I live) 4 hours and the northernmost part of the country has Polar nights. There is a great deal of internal variation, in other words.

    If we want to compare Finland with another country, Norway would probably be the best case to choose on geographical and demographical criteria. (You would have to control for economic wealth, though – the Norwegians have oil oozing out of their ears as an American colleage so wonderfully described the situation).

    Lo and behold: If we look at WHO's statistics on suicide rates, the Finns still come across as twice as suicidal as the Norwegians.

    It may be worth noticing that there is another suicidal European people: The Hungarians! If you compare Hungarian suicide rates with Slovakian and Romanian (best match in geography and economy), it's a surprise that there are any people left in Hungary.

    Is it something in the Finnish-Ugrian past that causes this? Or is all we can say: Perkele! And empty a bottle of Finnish vodka.

    PS: Yes, I know that the Russians and other people in the ex-USSR have a tendency to kill themselves as well. But here economic and political explanations seem more relevant.

  2. Koray says:

    It is also not clear cut whether Finland is really a scandinavian country.

  3. Completely unrelated to the statistics but here goes: ;-)

    Technically speaking, the Scandinavian countries are those on the Scandinavian Peninsula – Sweden and Norway with Denmark added because Danish just as Norwegian and Swedish is a Scandinavian language.

    The Nordic countries are Denmark (with Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland.

    In terms of language, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Faroese and Islandic are Scandinavian languages. Danes, Norwegians and Swedes can – at least in theory and with a little practice – read and understand each other's languages while Icelandic and Faroese branched away from the common Old Norse at an early stage. Icelanders and Faroese cannot understand each other's language nor any of the other Scandinavian languages without formal teaching.

    Finland was ruled by Sweden until the Swedish-Russian war in 1809 when Sweden was forced to cede Finland to Russia – so there are long and strong political and cultural links across the Botnian See. In terms of political and especially administrative structures, Finland is fairly close to Sweden. This is why people from outside of the Nordic countries occasionally describe Finland as a Scandinavian and not a Nordic country.

    Finnish language is not an Indo-European language but belongs in a separate category along with Hungarian and some minor trans-Uralian languages. No-one, except some Estonians, understand what the Finns mean when (or rather if) they speak.

    But to sum up: Finland is not a Scandinavian country, it is a Nordic country. :-)

  4. John S. says:

    All other things being equal, one is more likely to commit suicide when drunk than when sober. This fact alone could explain a lot of the difference between Finns and Norwegians :)

  5. Bob O'H says:

    Inevitably the Finns are studying their depression, there's a report here:

    In logistic regression analyses the factors associated with major depressive episode after adjustment for age were urban residency, smoking, alcohol intoxication and chronic medical conditions. In addition, being single and obese were found to be risk factors for males.

    Bob