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College of Arts & Sciences
Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute

Gender and Social Captial: Social Networks Post-Disaster

Christina Griffin

Advisor:  Dr. Kirstin Dow




In the last decade, social capital has been linked to community resilience in the post-disaster period. However, a comprehensive understanding of the role of social capital in post-disaster recovery cannot be achieved without a focused analysis of social inequalities and their effect on how people access and utilize social capital following a hazard event. Gender is particularly important in this endeavor as its social construction illuminates processes of responsibility and role-taking, which are often adopted by individuals following a disaster.

This research examines social networks, the social relations through which social capital is accessed, in the recovery phase of Hurricane Ike (2008) in the Texas counties of Galveston and Chambers. The research focuses on three aspects of social networking as they relate to the searching and acquisition of childcare and stable housing:

  1. The influence of gender on the exchange of information and favors within social networks
  2. The differences between the social networks of partnered and single parents
  3. The role of kin, friendships and recent acquaintances, as well as the spatial or aspatial configuration of social networks.

Approximately twenty-one weeks after the hurricane, 61 parents and caregivers (47 women and 14 men), the majority of who could be identified as socially vulnerable to disasters due to either low income and/or minority status, were interviewed. Research found that all but one participant used existing social networks rather than emergent networks. Gender was a significant influence in the use of social networks, particularly in the case of childcare support and temporary housing.

Single women differed from partnered women and all men in their greater diversity of social network contacts, as well as the quality and types of support that were received. Meanwhile, fathers were more likely to report not having any supportive friends or family. In the search for housing, single and partnered women perceived the affect of children and arranging childcare differently, with single mothers generally reporting little and partnered women reporting greater influence. Gender also influenced the source of social capital. Often, the people that were supplying the most supportive social network support were women. The significance of the spatial characteristics of social networks varies with the type of favor. Types of favors are also distinguished by source as kin are more likely to provide childcare and financial support than friends and acquaintances. Results from this research can be practically applied to NGO disaster response programs and governmental disaster policy. Future avenues of investigation in gender and social capital research post-disaster should include transportation and gender in the context of domestic partnerships.

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