Wednesday, December 5, 2007

More on Suicides by Farmers

In an earlier post I wrote that the percentage of suicides committed by farmers has been more or less constant at 15% of the total number of suicides during 1998-2005. I also remarked that as the proportion of farmers in the total population is declining this understates the population adjusted suicide rate for farmers.

A superior way is to calculate the Farmers’ Suicide Rate (FSR), which is the number of suicides per 100,000 farmers. Dr Nagaraj has done that. P Sainath writes that the FSR of about 12.9 is higher than the General Suicide Rate (GSR) of above 10. The latter is the number of suicides per 100,000 population.

However, it is methodologically incorrect to compare the GSR with the FSR. This is so because the size of the work (labour) force is much smaller than the total population. While calculating GSR one takes the total number of suicides and divides it by the total population of the country. The total population includes, for example, all sub-adults including infants and children who are not part of the work force. The percentage of population below the age of 14 is about 33% (2001 census) and if one were to exclude this the GSR would jump to 16.

But while calculating FSR one takes only those (adult farmers) numbers who are part of the labour force. This is a much smaller number. Census of India 2001 classifies 400 million or approximately 40% of the population as workers. Hence FSR ought to be compared with the suicide rate for other professions and not the general population. Or FSR should be compared over time.

Also note that the Census of India definition of workers (see here and here) is different from the NCRB category of professional status of suicide victims, the latter includes the unemployed and housewives.

Dr Nagaraj also argues for making adjustments for one, the exclusion, by the NCRB, of non-title holders who are actually cultivators from the category of farmers and two, for the distinction between marginal and main workers in the Census categories. Both these matters are debatable and it is a moot point if such adjustments ought to be made. Even if done these adjustments are likely to change the suicide rate but not the variation in them over time. And even after making such an adjustment the FSR increases to 15.8 which is lower than the 16 (GSR) that I calculate excluding children from the count.

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