Do Disasters Affect Individuals’ Psychological Well-Being? An Over-Time Analysis of the Effect of Hurricane Floyd on Men and Women in Eastern North Carolina

March 2001 (VOL. 19, NO. 1)

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Studies find that psychological distress is common after disasters and that women experience more stress than do men. These studies have relied mainly on cross-sectional data, sometimes using case matching and respondent recall to infer causality. They have not directly assessed whether disasters cause psychological distress. Using data from a survey of two representative samples of community residents- one before the hurricane and one shortly afterwards-, I assess whether levels of well-being changed within the same community and if women and men were differentially impacted in this natural quasi-experiment. I find that levels of social support and the sense of purpose to one’s life did decrease on average after the hurricane, although the sense of control did not. While women’s well-being decreased on average after the hurricane, men’s perceptions of social support and sense of having a purpose to their lives increased. Differential impacts on women were not explained by gender differences in social roles or socioeconomic status.