Oregon Climate and Health Social Vulnerability Assessment

The Oregon Climate and Health Program developed this social vulnerability assessment to inform climate resilience and adaptation planning in Oregon. It focuses specifically on social vulnerability as a way to integrate the concepts of social determinants and environmental justice into long-term planning. This first edition is a set of maps focused on social vulnerability indicators, and is limited to measures of population sensitivity.

The series of maps indicate the percentage of the population afflicted, within census tract areas which are generally county level sub-divisions. Each indicator is also described as to how it was developed, and how the indicator is directly related to climate change vulnerability.

Identify frontline communities in Oregon and better understand social determinants of climate vulnerability. 

The mapped indicators are:

  • Social vulnerability
  • Birth outcomes
  • Children
  • Chronic Disease
  • Educational attainment
  • Foreign-born population
  • Isolated older adults
  • Older adults
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Socio-economic status
  • Tenure
  • Unemployment

The following synopsis of each indicator are summaries of the same information provided for each mapped within the assessment.

Social vulnerability: This index is a combination eleven indicators of social vulnerability including measures of demographics, socioeconomic status, and health.

Birth outcomes: Preterm births are associated with extreme heat and air pollution; and adverse birth outcomes like preterm birth or low birth weight are associated with problems during early childhood as well as long term health effects including risk of cardiovascular disease.

Children: Children are more vulnerable to extreme heat and environmental toxins of all types, since the same dose given to an adult is lower in proportion to body size - making children more sensitive to contaminated food, water, and air resulting from impacts of climate change.

Chronic disease: People with existing illness are more vulnerable to climate change impacts because the changing climate has potential to exacerbate many conditions. In addition, extreme weather events such as floods and landslides can disrupt care and access to needed medication.

Educational attainment: Low educational attainment is associated with greater vulnerability to heat related illness and exposure to air pollution, which are projected to increase in Oregon.

Foreign-born population: This indicator is suggests linguistic isolation, limited capacity to access resources, and potential difficulty asserting labor and housing rights - which together are associated with vulnerability to a range of climate related hazards, including heat related illness, extreme weather, and occupational exposures.

Isolated older adults: Social isolation can result in a lack of supportive contact networks that can be relied upon in extreme conditions.

Older adults: Older adults are more vulnerable to multiple hazards, especially extreme heat - in part due the decreased ability to regulate body temperature that normally comes with age.

Race and ethnicity: Research suggests ways communities of color are more vulnerable to certain climate hazards, including: greater sensitivity and exposure to air pollutants, fewer resources for recovery from extreme weather events, and inadequacy of existing warning systems.

Socio-economic status: Low-income households have few resources to cope with climate-related health impacts. Lower income households are also more likely to live in urban heat islands, have higher exposure to air pollutants, and are less likely to be able to afford protective measures like air conditioning.

Tenure (renters vs home owners): Renters are less able to mitigate climate threats by investing time, labor, and equipment in protective measures - which is attributed to financial barriers and lack of incentive to engage in protective maintenance (e.g. removing trees that elevate fire risk).

Unemployment: Like other indicators of socioeconomic status, the percentage of adults who are unemployed helps to illustrate peoples’ capacity to cope with climate stressors.



Publication Date: October 2015

Related Organizations:

  • Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division

Related Resources:


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment
  • Indicators
  • Mapping tool

States Affected:


  • Socioeconomic

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