BACKGROUND The influence of the macro-economic climate on suicide is unclear. During the recent recession, rates have increased in young males but declined in females. AIMS To investigate associations between unemployment and suicide in 15- to 44-year-old men and women over a period spanning two major economic recessions (1921-1995). To minimise confounding by changes in method availability, analyses are restricted to suicides using methods other than poisons and gases. METHOD Time-series analysis using routine mortality and unemployment data. RESULTS There were significant associations between unemployment and suicide in both males and females. Associations were generally stronger at younger ages. CONCLUSIONS Secular trends in youth suicide may be influenced by unemployment or other factors associated with changes in the macro-economic climate. These factors appear to affect women to the same extent as men. Although it is not possible to draw firm aetiological conclusions from time-trend data, our findings are in keeping with those of person-based studies.