This study explores the relationship between place-based social vulnerability and post-disaster migration in the U.S. Gulf Coast region following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Using county-level data from the U.S. Census Bureau, we develop a regional index of social vulnerability and examine how its various dimensions are related to migration patterns in the wake of the storms. Our results show that places characterized by greater proportions of disadvantaged populations, housing damage, and, to a lesser degree, more densely built environments were significantly more likely to experience outmigration following the hurricanes. Our results also show that these relationships were not spatially random, but rather exhibited significant geographic clustering. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of these findings for future research and public policy.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Baller, R. D., Anselin, L., Messner, S. F., Deane, G., & Hawkins, D. F. (2001). Structural covariates of U.S. county homicide rates: Incorporating spatial effects. Criminology, 39, 201–232.
Belcher, J. C., & Bates, F. L. (1983). Aftermath of natural disasters: Coping through residential mobility. Disasters, 7, 118–27.
Bolin, R. (1998). The Northridge earthquake: Vulnerability and disaster. London: Routledge.
Branshaw, J., & Trainor, J. (2007). Race, class, and capital amidst the hurricane Katrina diaspora. In D. L. Brunsma, D. Overfelt, & J. S. Picou (Eds.), The sociology of Katrina: Perspectives on a modern catastrophe (pp. 91–105). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Browning, C. R., Wallace, D., Feinberg, S. L., & Cagney, K. A. (2006). Neighborhood social processes, physical conditions, and disaster-related mortality: The case of the 1995 Chicago heat wave. American Sociological Review, 71, 661–678.
Brunsma, D. L. (2007). Preface. In D. L. Brunsma, D. Overfelt, & J. S. Picou (Eds.), The sociology of Katrina: Perspectives on a modern catastrophe (pp. xv–xvi). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Brunsma, D. L., Overfelt, D., & Picou, J. S. (2007). The sociology of Katrina: Perspectives on a modern catastrophe. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Cutter, S. L. (1996). Vulnerability to environmental hazards. Progress in Human Geography, 20, 529–539.
Cutter, S. L., Boruff, B. J., & Shirley, W. L. (2003). Social vulnerability to environmental hazards. Social Science Quarterly, 84, 242–261.
Cutter, S. L., & Emrich, C. T. (2006). Moral hazard, social catastrophe: The changing face of vulnerability along the hurricane coasts. The Annals of the Academy of Political and Social Science, 604, 102–112.
DeJong, G. F., & Fawcett, J. (1981). Multidisciplinary frameworks and models of migration decision making. In G. F. DeJong & R. W. Gardner (Eds.), Migration decision making: Multidisciplinary approaches to microlevel studies in developed and developing countries (pp. 13–58). New York: Pergamon Press.
Dewan, S. (2007). Patchwork city: Road to new life after Katrina closed to many. New York Times. Retrieved on December 17, 2007 from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/12/us/nationalspecial/12exile.html?pagewanted=all.
Dynes, R. R., & Drabek, T. E. (1994). The structure of disaster research: Its policy and interdisciplinary implications. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 12, 5–23.
Enarson, E. (1998). Through women’s eyes: A gendered research agenda for disaster social science. Disasters, 22, 157–173.
Erikson, K. (2007). Foreword. In D. L. Brunsma, D. Overfelt, & J. S. Picou (Eds.), The sociology of Katrina: Perspectives on a modern catastrophe (pp. xvii–xx). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Fordham, M. H. (1999). The intersection of gender and social class in disaster: Balancing resilience and vulnerability. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 17, 15–36.
Fothergill, A., & Peek, L. A. (2004). Poverty and disasters in the United States: A review of recent sociological findings. Natural Hazards, 32, 89–110.
Freudenburg, W. R. (1992). Addictive economies: Extractive industries and vulnerable localities in a changing world economy. Rural Sociology, 57, 305–332.
Frey, W. H., & Singer, A. (2006). Katrina and Rita impacts on gulf coast populations: First census findings. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution: Metropolitan Policy Program.
Gardner, R. W. (1981). Macrolevel influences on the migration decision process. In G. F. DeJong & R. W. Gardner (Eds.), Migration decision making: Multidisciplinary approaches to microlevel studies in developed and developing countries (pp. 59–89). New York: Pergamon Press.
Gramling, R., & Freudenburg, W. R. (1990). A closer look at “local control”: Communities, commodities, and the collapse of the coast”. Rural Sociology, 55, 541–558.
Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. (2006). Current housing units damage estimates: Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. Retrieved on February 1, 2007 from http://www.gnocdc.org/reports/Katrina_Rita_Wilma_Damage_2_12_06___revised.pdf.
Haas, E., Kates, R. W., & Bowden, M. J. (1977). Reconstruction following disaster. Cambridge, MA: MIT.
Hewitt, K. (1998). Excluded perspectives in the social construction of disaster. In E. L. Quarantelli (Ed.), What is a disaster?: Perspectives on the question (pp. 75–91). London: Routledge.
Hugo, G. (1996). Environmental concerns and international migration. International Migration Review, 30, 105–131.
Hunter, L. M. (2005). Migration and environmental hazards. Population and Environment, 26, 273–302.
Hunter, L. M., White, M. J., Little, J. S., & Sutton, J. (2003). Environmental hazards, migration, and race. Population and Environment, 25, 23–39.
Klinenberg, E. (2002). Heat wave: A social autopsy of disaster in Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago.
Knabb, R. D., Brown, D. P., & Rhome, J. R. (2006). Tropical cyclone report: Hurricane Rita. National Hurricane Center, National Weather Service. Retrieved on November 28, 2007 from http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/2005atlan.shtml.
Knabb, R. D., Rhome, J. R., & Brown, D. P. (2005). Tropical cyclone report: Hurricane Katrina. National Hurricane Center, National Weather Service. Retrieved on November 28, 2007 from http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/2005atlan.shtml.
Kreps, G. A. (1984). Sociological inquiry and disaster research. Annual Review of Sociology, 10, 309–330.
Kreps, G. A. (1995). Disaster as systemic event and social catalyst: A clarification of subject matter. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 13, 255–284.
McGuire, B., Mason, I., & Kilburn, C. (2002). Natural hazards and environmental change. New York: Oxford University.
Messner, S. F., & Anselin, L. (2004). Spatial analyses of homicide with areal data. In M. F. Goodchild & D. G. Janelle (Eds.), Best practices in spatially integrated social science (pp. 127–144). New York: Oxford University Press.
Morrow-Jones, H. A., & Morrow-Jones, C. R. (1991). Mobility due to natural disaster: Theoretical considerations and preliminary analyses. Disasters, 15, 126–32.
Oliver-Smith, A. (1996). Anthropological research on hazards and disasters. Annual Review of Anthropology, 25, 303–328.
Oliver-Smith, A. (2006). Disasters and forced migration in the 21st century. Understanding Katrina: Perspectives from the social sciences. Social Science Research Council. Retrieved on January 23, 2008 from http://understandingkatrina.ssrc.org/Oliver-Smith/.
Oliver-Smith, A., & Hoffman, S. (1999). The angry earth: Disaster in anthropological perspective. New York: Routledge.
Peacock, W. G., & Girard, C. (1997). Ethnic and racial inequalities in hurricane damage and insurance settlements. In W. G. Peacock, B. H. Morrow, & H. Gladwin (Eds.), Hurricane Andrew: Ethnicity, gender, and the sociology of disasters (pp. 171–90). New York: Routledge.
Perry, R., & Quarantelli, E. L. (2005). What is a disaster?: New answers to old questions. New York: Xlibris.
Petersen, W. A. (1958). A general typology of migration. American Sociological Review, 23, 256–266.
Petersen, W. A. (1975). Population. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company.
Picou, S. J., & Marshall, B. K. (2007). Katrina as paradigm shift: Reflections on disaster research in the twenty-first century. In D. L. Brunsma, D. Overfelt, & S. J. Picou (Eds.), The sociology of Katrina: Perspectives on a modern catastrophe (pp. 1–20). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Picou, S. J., Marshall, B. K., & Gill, D. A. (2004). Disaster, litigation, and corrosive community. Social Forces, 82, 1493–1522.
Quarantelli, E. L. (1987). What should we study?: Questions and suggestions for researchers about the concept of disasters. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 5, 7–32.
Quarantelli, E. L. (1989). Conceptualizing disasters from a sociological perspective. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 7(3), 243–251.
Quarantelli, E. L. (1993). Community crises: An exploratory comparison of the characteristics consequences of disasters and riots. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 1, 67–78.
Quarantelli, E. L. (1998). What is a disaster? Perspectives on the question. London: Routledge.
Quarantelli, E. L. (2000). Disaster research. In E. F. Borgatta & R. J. V. Montgomery (Eds.), Encyclopedia of sociology (pp. 681–688). New York: MacMillan.
Quarantelli, E. L., & Dynes, R. R. (1977). Response to social crisis and disaster. Annual Review of Sociology, 3, 23–49.
Rupasingha, A., & Goetz, S. J. (2007). Social and political forces as determinants of poverty: A spatial analysis. The Journal of Socio-Economics, 36, 650–671.
Smith, N. (2006). There’s no such thing as a natural disaster. Understanding Katrina: Perspectives from the social sciences. Social Science Research Council. Retrieved on January 23, 2008 from http://understandingkatrina.ssrc.org/Smith/.
Speare, A., Jr. (1974). Residential satisfaction as an intervening variable in residential mobility. Demography, 11, 173–188.
Tierney, K. (2006). Social inequality, hazards, and disasters. In R. J. Daniels, D. F. Kettl, & H. Kunreuther (Eds.), On risk and disaster (pp. 109–127). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.
U.S. Census Bureau. (2006). Special population estimates for impacted counties in the Gulf Coast area. Retrieved on December 1, 2006 from http://www.census.gov/PressRelease/www/emergencies/impacted_gulf_estimates.html.
Voss, P. R., Long, D. D., Hammer, R. B., & Friedman, S. (2006). County child poverty rates in the U.S.: A spatial regression approach. Population Research and Development Review, 25, 369–391.
Wisner, B., Blaikie, P., Cannon, T., & Davis, I. (2004). At risk: Natural hazards, people’s vulnerability and disasters. London: Routledge.
Wolpert, J. (1966). Migration as an adjustment to environmental stress. Journal of Social Issues, 22, 92–102.
We wish to thank the Editor of Population and Environment and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful insights on earlier drafts of this manuscript. This is a revised version of papers presented at the annual meetings of the Rural Sociological Society, Santa Clara, CA, 2007, and the Southern Demographic Association, Birmingham, AL, 2007. This research was supported by funding from the Minerals Management Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Special thanks to Huizhen Niu of the Agricultural Economics Geographic Information Systems (AEGIS) Lab in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, LSU AgCenter, for her assistance in developing the maps presented in this paper and used to diagnose spatial effects.
About this article
Cite this article
Myers, C.A., Slack, T. & Singelmann, J. Social vulnerability and migration in the wake of disaster: the case of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Popul Environ 29, 271–291 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11111-008-0072-y