Factors of Social Vulnerability

According to Cutter et al. (2003), the following are factors of social vulnerability:

Concept Description
Socioeconomic status (income, political power, prestige) The ability to absorb losses and enhance resilience to hazard impacts. Wealth enables communities to absorb and recover from losses more quickly due to insurance, social safety nets, and entitlement programs
GenderWomen can have a more difficult time during recovery than men, often due to sector-specific employment, lower wages, and family care responsibilities
Race and ethnicityImposes language and cultural barriers that affect access to post-disaster funding and residential locations in high hazard areas
Age Extremes of the age spectrum affect the movement out of harm’s way. Parents lose time and money caring for children when daycare facilities are affected; elderly may have mobility constraints or mobility concerns increasing the burden of care and lack of resilience
Commercial and industrial development The value, quality, and density of commercial and industrial buildings provides an indicator of the state of economic health of a community, and potential losses in the business community, and longer-term issues with recovery after an event
Employment lossThe potential loss of employment following a disaster exacerbates the number of unemployed workers in a community, contributing to a slower recovery from the disaster
Rural/urbanRural residents may be more vulnerable due to lower incomes and more dependent on locally based resource extraction economies (e.g., farming, fishing). High-density areas (urban) complicate evacuation out of harm’s way
Residential propertyThe value, quality, and density of residential construction affects potential losses and recovery. Expensive homes on the coast are costly to replace; mobile homes are easily destroyed and less resilient to hazards.
Infrastructure and lifelinesLoss of sewers, bridges, water, communications, and transportation infrastructure compounds potential disaster losses. The loss of infrastructure may place an insurmountable financial burden on smaller communities that lack the financial resources to rebuild.
Renters People that rent do so because they are either transient or do not have the financial resources for home ownership. They often lack access to information about financial aid during recovery. In the most extreme cases, renters lack sufficient shelter options when lodging becomes uninhabitable or too costly to afford.
Ocuupation Some occupations, especially those involving resource extraction, may be severely impacted by a hazard event. Self-employed fisherman suffer when their means of production is lost and may not have the requisite capital to resume work in a timely fashion and thus will seek alternative employment. Those migrant workers engaged in agriculture and lowskilled service jobs (housekeeping, childcare, and gardening) may similarly suffer, as disposable income fades and the need for services declines. Immigration status also affects occupational recovery
Family structureFamilies with large numbers of dependents or single-parent households often have limited finances to outsource care for dependents, and thus must juggle work responsibilities and care for family members. All affect the resilience to and recovery from hazards
EducationEducation is linked to socioeconomic status, with higher educational attainment resulting in greater lifetime earnings. Lower education constrains the ability to understand warning information and access to recovery information
Population growthCounties experiencing rapid growth lack available quality housing, and the social services network may not have had time to adjust to increased populations. New migrants may not speak the language and not be familiar with bureaucracies for obtaining relief or recovery information, all of which increase vulnerability
Medical services Health care providers, including physicians, nursing homes, and hospitals, are important post-event sources of relief. The lack of proximate medical services will lengthen immediate relief and longer-term recovery from disasters
Social dependence Those people who are totally dependent on social services for survival are already economically and socially marginalized and require additional support in the post-disaster period
Special needs population Special needs populations (infirm, institutionalized, transient, homeless), while difficult to identify and measure, are disproportionately affected during disasters and, because of their invisibility in communities, mostly ignored during recovery


Cutter, S.L., B.J. Boruff and W.L. Shirley (2003) ‘‘Social Vulnerability to Environmental Hazards’’, Social Sciences Quarterly 84(2): 242–261

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