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To the list of differences between men and women, you can add the way the two genders respond in the face of emergency, according to a new study led by a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder

Women are faster to evacuate or take cover during an emergency, but often have trouble convincing the men around them to do so, said the study’s lead author, Melissa Villarreal, who is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology and research assistant at the CU Boulder Natural Hazards Center.

Also, the research determined traditional gender roles tend to resurface after disasters, with women relegated to the important, but also isolating role of homemaker — while men focus on finances and lead community efforts.

Melissa Villarreal

Agencies charged with providing assistance still, at times, ask to speak to the “man of the house,” the researchers discovered.

Villarreal said Friday she was not overly surprised by what her research showed.

“Not really,” she said, “because I had a focus on gender dynamics in my studies, and I see these dynamics every day in a lot of different contexts. But to see that they can just be exacerbated in times of disasters, it wasn’t much surprising as it was interesting, that it still could he happening in a time of crisis like that.

In Villarreal’s study, which was co-authored by Texas A&M University Assistant Professor Michelle Meyer and published in the journal Disaster, researchers analyzed in-depth interviews that had been conducted with 33 women and 10 men across two Texas towns.

Some of those interviewed were from Granbury, which in 2013 was hit by an EF-4 tornado that killed six and cut a mile-wide path of destruction, causing damage to 600 homes. Interviews were also conducted with people from West, Texas, where an explosion at a fertilizer company that same year killed 15, destroying 100 homes.

Residents were interviewed about their experiences during, and in the year after the disasters. Common gender-influenced patterns emerged, despite the differing circumstances of each interview subject.

“We often assume that men and women are going to respond the same way to these kinds of external stimuli but we are finding that’s not really the case,” Meyer, director of the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M said, in a statement.

Villarreal said she does not see her findings as controversial.

However, she said, “I do think that particularly with the response from (aid) organizations, the piece about really wanting to talk to ‘the man of the house for example, in those cases I can see people maybe being a little defensive. A lot of that comes down to unconscious bias, or just the way the program is set up, like perhaps they have to talk to the person whose name is on” a document.

“But it’s still important to recognize that is happening, and influencing and impacting the recovery of women in these cases, whether or not that was their intention.”

Villarreal said the interviews were conducted by Meyer as part of a larger study concerning disaster recovery, and that her contribution was her specifically focused analyses of interviews that others had conducted.

She also said her findings “aren’t necessarily completely new results. We know there are others who have found similar things in disaster recovery situations.”

Villarreal, whose work is supported by a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship, recently launched a separate study, set in her native Houston, examining  the unique challenges Mexican immigrant populations are facing in the aftermath of the devastating Hurricane Harvey of 2017.

She recently embarked on a separate study, set in her native Houston, looking at the unique challenges Mexican immigrant populations are facing in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which hit the region in 2017.

“It would be great to add a gender piece to that, to see differences there,” she said. “It would be nice to focus on that, to see if I could show these dynamics are happening in this different community,” since those involved in the disasters included in her studies so far were “predominantly white.”

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