How Natural Hazards Impact the Social Environment for Vulnerable Groups: An Empirical Investigation in Japan
Much research has demonstrated that vulnerable people fare more poorly than non vulnerable ones in disasters and crises across a variety of outcomes – including mental and physical health, disaster aid received, re-housing processes, and overall satisfaction with recovery. But little is known about how natural disasters change the social and political environment for those vulnerable groups. Some have argued that natural disasters raise the consciousness of civil society and decision makers so that conditions improve for vulnerable groups, while others believe that disasters have little or even negative impact on their status in society. This paper uses a new panel dataset across 17 years (1999 through 2015) of Japan’s 47 prefectures to investigate how disasters impact discrimination rates for vulnerable groups, including women, the elderly, foreigners, and those with disabilities. Controlling for demographic and social factors we find that disasters actually reduce discrimination against certain vulnerable groups – especially women and the elderly – while having no measurable impact on discrimination against other groups – foreigners and the disabled. These results bring with them important policy recommendations for local residents, disaster managers, and decision makers.
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