10 Correlations That Are Not Causations

The Suicidal Sex
Researchers studying suicide occurring across genders have to be aware that suicidal men and women may reach for different weapons, thus affecting their outcomes. Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock

We often hear it bandied about that men, especially young men, are more likely to commit suicide than are women. In truth, such statements partake of empirical generalization -- the act of making a broad statement about a common pattern without attempting to explain it -- and mask a number of known and potential confounding factors.

Take, for example, the fact that women make three times as many suicide attempts as men. How then can a higher correlation exist between the opposite sex and suicide? The answer lies in success rate, influenced by differences in methodology: Women resort to pills, while men tend to favor guns [source: O'Connell].

Even if we could dispose of such confounding factors, the fact would remain that maleness, per se, is not a cause. To explain the trend, we need to instead identify factors common to men, or at least suicidal ones. The same point applies to the comparatively high rates of suicide reported among divorced men. Divorce doesn't cause men to commit suicide; if anything, the causal variable hides among related factors, such as isolation, depression, a sense of powerlessness, financial stress or custody loss [sources: Kposowa; Kposowa; Reuters].