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The Gendered Nature of Natural Disasters: The Impact of Catastrophic Events on the Gender Gap in Life Expectancy, 1981-2002


Eric Neumayer


London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Thomas Plümper


University of Essex - Department of Government

January 1, 2007

Annals of the American Association of Geographers, Vol. 97, No. 3, pp. 551-566, 2007

Abstract:     
Natural disasters do not affect people equally. In fact, a vulnerability approach to disasters would suggest that inequalities in exposure and sensitivity to risk as well as inequalities in access to resources, capabilities and opportunities systematically disadvantage certain groups of people, rendering them more vulnerable to the impact of natural disasters. In this article we address the specific vulnerability of girls and women with respect to mortality from natural disasters and their aftermath. Biological and physiological differences between the sexes are unlikely to explain large-scale gender differences in mortality rates. Social norms and role behavior provide some further explanation, but what is likely to matter most is the everyday socio-economic status of women. We analyze the effect of disaster strength and its interaction with the socio-economic status of women on the change in the gender gap in life expectancy in a sample of up to 141 countries over the period 1981 to 2002. We find, first, that natural disasters lower the life expectancy of women more than that of men. In other words, natural disasters (and their subsequent impact) on average kill more women than men or kill women at an earlier age than men. Since female life expectancy is generally higher than that of males, for most countries natural disasters narrow the gender gap in life expectancy. Second, the stronger the disaster (as approximated by the number of people killed relative to population size), the stronger this effect on the gender gap in life expectancy. That is, major calamities lead to more severe impacts on female life expectancy (relative to that of males) than smaller disasters. Third, the higher women's socio-economic status, the weaker this effect on the gender gap in life expectancy. In other words, taken together our results show that it is the socially constructed gender-specific vulnerability of females built into everyday socio-economic patterns that lead to the relatively higher female disaster mortality rates compared to men.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 46

Keywords: natural disaster, vulnerability, gender, mortality, socio-economic status

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Date posted: January 17, 2006 ; Last revised: June 15, 2010

Suggested Citation

Neumayer, Eric and Plümper, Thomas, The Gendered Nature of Natural Disasters: The Impact of Catastrophic Events on the Gender Gap in Life Expectancy, 1981-2002 (January 1, 2007). Annals of the American Association of Geographers, Vol. 97, No. 3, pp. 551-566, 2007. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=874965

Contact Information

Eric Neumayer (Contact Author)
London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) ( email )
Houghton Street
WC2A 2AE London
United Kingdom
+44 207 955 7598 (Phone)
+44 207 955 7412 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://personal.lse.ac.uk/neumayer
Thomas Plümper
University of Essex - Department of Government ( email )
Wivenhoe Park
Colchester, Essex CO4 3SQ
United Kingdom
HOME PAGE: http://www.polsci.org/pluemper
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