Disaster Vulnerability Looks Different for Women

In the case of “natural” disasters, women are more often than not the ones who take the brunt of the impacts following the event. According to the article “The Gendered Nature of Natural Disasters: The Impact of Catastrophic Events on the Gender Gap in Life Expectancy, 1981–2002” written by Eric Neumayer of the London School of Economics and Political Science and Thomas Plümper of the University of Essex and Max-Planck Institute of Economics, women are more vulnerable given social, biological, and economic differences between men and women.

They define vulnerability as being ‘‘the characteristics of a person or group and their situation influencing their capacity to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impact of a natural hazard”. As opposed to looking to the magnitude of the disaster for their analysis, the authors decided to utilize the number of causalities in a given disaster to better understand the factors at play in widening the gender gap. “The gender gap in life expectancy shows large variations across time and space. Worldwide, on average, women’s life expectancy is 4.69 years higher than that of men. However, in 64 out of 2,266 country-years men actually lived longer than women.” Why is this the case? The authors cite socio-economic standing and the limitations that society places on women as probable causes.



A few of the compelling reasons that the authors cited for reasons why mortality would be higher for women in disaster include strict dress codes that keep women in clothing that would restrict movement during a disaster, the inability to climb tree or to swim (which many men do as parts of their jobs), and even the fact that many men are allowed to sleep outside during warm evenings on the roofs of their abodes while women remain housebound, regardless.


Although this article does not include any GIS maps within its text, it provides a number of interesting factors that could be easily represented by utilizing a visualization. By mapping out the elements that are presented within the text, GIS may be used to help predict which areas may need more funding towards educational or adaptation programs based on their vulnerability in terms of likelihood of experiencing a large scale disaster, the female population, and the relative socio-economic classes of the female population.


The following map “charts how nations stack up on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index, which gauges the magnitude of the gender gap in four areas: economic participation and opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainment and health and survival. Note that the higher the score, the lower the gap”.



How can society change to make sure that the gender gap is closed and that all people are given the skills they need to survive and thrive with or without facing disasters?





Neumayer, Eric and Plümper, Thomas. 2007. “The Gendered Nature of Natural Disasters: The Impact of Catastrophic Events on the Gender Gap in Life Expectancy, 1981–2002” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 97(3), 2007, pp. 551–566.


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