How Valid Are Social Vulnerability Models?

Samuel Rufat, Eric Tate, Christopher T. Emrich, Federico Antolini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


Social vulnerability models are becoming increasingly important for hazard mitigation and recovery planning, but it remains unclear how well they explain disaster outcomes. Most studies using indicators and indexes employ them to either describe vulnerability patterns or compare newly devised measures to existing ones. The focus of this article is construct validation, in which we investigate the empirical validity of a range of models of social vulnerability using outcomes from Hurricane Sandy. Using spatial regression, relative measures of assistance applicants, affected renters, housing damage, and property loss were regressed on four social vulnerability models and their constituent pillars while controlling for flood exposure. The indexes best explained housing assistance applicants, whereas they poorly explained property loss. At the pillar level, themes related to access and functional needs, age, transportation, and housing were the most explanatory. Overall, social vulnerability models with weighted and profile configurations demonstrated higher construct validity than the prevailing social vulnerability indexes. The findings highlight the need to expand the number and breadth of empirical validation studies to better understand relationships among social vulnerability models and disaster outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
StateAccepted/In press - 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


  • hazards
  • index
  • social vulnerability
  • spatial regression
  • validation


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