Residential relocation and change in social capital: A natural experiment from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

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Science Advances  26 Jul 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 7, e1700426
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700426

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Social connections in the community (“social capital”) represent an important source of resilience in the aftermath of major disasters. However, little is known about how residential relocation due to housing destruction affects survivors’ social capital. We examined changes in social capital among survivors of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. People who lost their homes were resettled to new locations by two primary means: (i) group relocation to public temporary trailer housing or (ii) individual relocation, in which victims moved into government-provided housing by lottery or arranged for their own accommodation (market rental housing or private purchase/new construction). The baseline for our natural experiment was established 7 months before the 11 March 2011 disaster, when we conducted a survey of older community-dwelling adults who lived 80-km west of the earthquake epicenter. Approximately 2.5 years after the disaster, the follow-up survey gathered information about personal experiences of disaster as well as health status and social capital. Among 3421 people in our study, 79 people moved via group relocation to public temporary trailer housing, whereas 96 people moved on their own. The individual fixed-effects model showed that group relocation was associated with improved informal socializing and social participation (β coefficient = 0.053, 95% confidence interval: 0.011 to 0.095). In contrast, individual relocation was associated with declining informal socializing and social participation (β coefficient = −0.039, 95% confidence interval: −0.074 to −0.003). Group relocation, as compared to individual relocation, appeared to preserve social participation and informal socializing in the community.

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