Tornadic Activity, Demographic Change, and Inequality in the American Heartland, 1980–2015

Ethan Raker , Harvard University

From 1980 to 2010, communities in the heartland of the United States saw dramatic shifts in the composition, concentration, and spatial distribution of their ethnoracial and impoverished families. In this paper, I contribute to a growing literature on the demographic consequences of natural hazards by using georeferenced data on the population of severe tornadoes—a particularly exogenous and acute natural hazard—linked to local block group data to demonstrate a previously-overlooked contributing factor to inequality in the nation’s heartland. Results from spatially-weighted multilevel models of block-group level (n=114,796) demographic change will explore the extent and conditions under which severe tornado activity resulted in changes in the proportion and size of racial minority, foreign-born, and impoverished families. This research advances the empirical research on the demographic consequences of natural hazards and suggests a theoretical reevaluation of the direction and nature of the relationship between the environment and human society.

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 Presented in Session 163. Innovative Application of Demographic Theory to Population-Environment Research