High Rates of Household Breakups Occurred Following Hurricane Katrina

For Release

May 23, 2011

The composition of households in New Orleans made the city's families more vulnerable to breakup during the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Two-thirds of the city's households at the time of Katrina saw at least one family member move away, an unusually high number even given the tremendous destruction of the hurricane.

One reason for the breakups is that New Orleans had a high percentage of multi-generational households when the storm struck, a factor that likely contributed to the disintegration of families that occurred after the storms, according to a study published in the June issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.

"We would expect that some families might have to separate briefly following a disaster such as a major hurricane," said Michael Rendall, author of the study and director of the Population Research Center at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "But in New Orleans, where extended-family households were very common, the hurricane had a large and longer-term impact on the breakup of households."

He said the study's results indicate that household composition should be considered more carefully in post-disaster recovering planning.

The RAND study used survey data from the RAND Displaced New Orleans Residents Pilot Study, which collected information about pre-Katrina households 13 to 15 months after Hurricane Katrina, and a comparable national study, to look at household structure before and after the hurricane.

Compared to households nationwide, fewer heads of households in pre-Katrina New Orleans lived with a spouse and adult children were more likely to live with their parent than in households elsewhere in the United States.

Whether a family's house was habitable or not after the hurricane also played a large role in whether the household remained intact, Rendall said. Among those families whose residence was uninhabitable, three-quarters had no family member living in the residence over a year later. For families whose residence remained habitable, only 12.5 percent of households were displaced entirely.

As many as two-thirds of New Orleans households experienced the displacement of at least one individual following Hurricane Katrina. Nationally, only 24 percent of all households of two or more people had at least one member move away over a similar period.

Research conducted following Hurricane Andrew in 1992 noted that recovery programs tailored toward nuclear families did not accommodate extended-family households. Rendall said the new study serves to further emphasize the need to provide for extended-family households in planning for recovery and reconstruction after disaster.

The study was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

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