Advisory Committee Chair
Advisory Committee Members
J D Wolfe
Date of Award
Degree Name by School
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) College of Arts and Sciences
Social capital refers to the social relationships and structures that provide individuals with material, financial, and emotional resources throughout their lives. Previous research has found an association between high levels of social capital and lower rates of all-cause and cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality. Severe disasters have been linked to higher rates of all-cause and CVD mortality. In post-disaster settings social capital may be a valuable resource for protecting against both forms of mortality. Past research shows that social capital can improve access to resources, such as food, water, and medical supplies, that reduce all-cause and CVD mortality. Using previous research on social capital, disasters, and cardiovascular disease as a guide, the aim of this research was to understand the protective effect of social capital against all-cause and CVD mortality immediately after severe hurricanes. Specifically, I hypothesized that counties with high levels of social capital reduce all-cause and CVD mortality rates as well as risk for excess mortality. To test this hypothesis, I compiled county-level data from several federal surveys before and after three major hurricanes -- Harvey, Matthew, and Irma -- and analyzed levels of social capital in counties before and after the disaster. I then examined the relationship between social capital and mortality rates and risk for excess mortality in counties that experienced high levels of damage from severe hurricanes. I found that Hurricane damage is associated with increased all-cause mortality rates, but not increased CVD mortality rates. Social capital partially mediated the iv relationship between damage and all-cause mortality, and had indirect effects associated with decreased CVD mortality after hurricanes. Hurricane damage was not associated with increased risk for excess all-cause and CVD mortality. Findings suggest that social capital is an important resource protecting against increased mortality rates after disaster but may not reduce the risk for excess all-cause and CVD mortality after hurricanes. Stronger policies at local, state, and federal levels are needed to facilitate and improve social connections in vulnerable communities to reduce both all-cause and CVD mortality after severe hurricanes.
McCann, Zachary H., "Hurricanes and Heart Problems: Natural Disaster, Social Capital, and Cardiovascular Mortality" (2021). All ETDs from UAB. 630.