Social Mapping for Environmental Studies: The Key Socio-economic Parameters​

Marlon Suelto, University of the Philippines, Los Baños, Laguna
Dennis Alonzo, School of Education, University of New South Wales, Sydney (

The use of Geographic Information System (GIS) in social and environmental studies has generated significant contributions to addressing why and where natural resources can be found and used (Vreese et al., 2016). In most cases, the spatial distribution of ecological services is based on the inherent environmental attributes associated with anthropogenic activities and population dynamics, including their proximity to natural resources (Chan et al., 2012). However, more attention is given to quantifiable resources directly observed in space, thereby missing out on the geospatial relationship of the human component, environment, and resources (Crossman et al., 2013). Hence, social mapping will leverage the research understanding of the relationship between population, resources, environment, and development (PRED). Moreover, the involvement of the community in determining the location of resources and their settlement lessen the likelihood of missing out on intangible resources that play a critical role in their daily activities (Vreese et al., 2016). Involving the community in the process will give them a voice, enhancing their psychological identification with the project. Social mapping explores social-economic factors and demographics that are impacting a certain phenomenon. The social map overlayed with technical data, including environmental, geological, hydrological, and geospatial, will highlight the intersections between human and environmental capital, significantly benefiting environmental studies. In this article, we scoped the literature and identified the most critical socio-economic parameters and demographics of farmers that interact with environmental parameters.

1. Ethnicity

A range of research evidence proves the importance of cultural practices that affect productivity, schooling, environment, and the economy (Kautz et al., 2017). The inherent cultural traits of ethnicity play a vital role in the productivity and utilisation of environmental resources (Gradstein, 2021). The intergenerational practices and transmission of these traits to younger generation depends on the biophysical environment and culture in promoting attitudes and values through cognitive learning (Varvarigos, 2020). Moreover, cultural traits such as attitudes, norms, and values significantly impact people’s views on education and the economy (Hoorn, 2016). Hence, identifying ethnicity is an important parameter to consider in understanding acquired traits and practices taught to them by their parents, relatives, and ancestors of the same lineage.

2. Membership to Cooperatives

The inability of the farmers to join cooperatives and professional organizations within the village will impact their happiness, health, socio-economic status, and personal development (Wu et al., 2023). Several studies prove that deprivation from cooperative membership will result in specific adverse outcomes (Gero et al., 2020), including psychological pressure (Wang et al., 2022), smoking and drinking (Eibner, 2005), acquisition of chronic diseases (Fahad et al., 2022), and discouragement from participating in social gatherings increasing the risks of mental health problems (House et al., 1988). Additionally, farmers feel the deprivation, especially if they see their peers in the same village are much more advantaged socioeconomically due to the social function played by cooperatives in increasing capital outlay (Zhang, 2021). Thus, it is necessary to measure and know the farmers’ membership in agricultural cooperatives since the deprivation of membership is the anchor of the multiple social problems experienced by farmers.

3. Income

Regardless of job roles, people work for relative compensation (Ravallion, 2019). The level of income of the community indicates the abundance of natural resources and the production of assets (Aladejare, 2023). People in rural communities feel the deprivation, especially if their peers in the same village are much more advantaged socioeconomically, making the differences in their income increase deprivation (Gravelle & Sutton, 2009). To determine individual income, the best way is to do a household survey, identify income sources, and conduct post-fieldwork to understand the bulk income source of the community (United Nations, 2012).

4. Educational Attainment

One of the key factors in describing the economic success of a particular geographic location is the educational attainment of people (Lucas, 1993). Educational attainment has been used to validate people’s ideals in attaining work in the future. It plays a vital role in shaping younger community members’ desired educational careers (Schoon & Heckhausen, 2019). Younger family members’ perception of their future careers is directly affected by their parents’ educational attainment (Tomul & Savasci, 2012). Parents with higher educational attainment can provide their children with access to more extensive economic and social resources to support their academic endeavor (Coleman, 2006). Furthermore, parent educational attainment, for instance, is frequently a more significant predictor of parental views and actions (Davis-Kean et al., 2019). Thus, the measurement of educational attainment is vital in determining the family’s future, the path the younger members would like to achieve, and their perception of success.

5. Reasons for staying in the location

People move from one place to another in search of satisfaction, like searching for new places for better homes, more space, better jobs, and more economic opportunities (Florida, 2014). In most cases, older people stay as mobility declines with age, while the young people who already live in cities are most likely to move soon (Andersson & Mellander, 2012).

6. Family Size

Family size significantly impacts the nation and the reputation of the individual, the family, and the neighbourhood (Arthur, 2005). Family size pertains to the total number of family members, including children, regardless of where they reside (Jones, 2005). The size of the family in a community and society generally depends on the familial, cultural system, socio-economic situation, biological, and psychological effects of the engaged couples who want to start a family or the eligible partners who already reside in the family (Uddin et al., 2012). Family size is influenced by socio-economic, demographic, and cultural factors (Roy, 2023).

7. Satisfaction with Living Conditions

Satisfaction of living conditions is a psychological aspect that refers to the overall evaluation or state of an individual’s living environment or quality of life (Stone & Makie, 2013). It points out the subjective assessment of an individual’s physical environment, social relationships, and resources concerning the needs and expectations that affect the quality of their lives (Krueger et al., 2009; Layard, 2006). Various factors contribute to the satisfaction of living conditions, such as housing quality where the noise levels (Bonnefoy, 2007), access to ventilation (Heracleous & Michael, 2019), light (Prochorskaite et al., 2016), water, free space, the basis for the building design, area and location (Gehl, 2020) helps individuals in maintaining their physical environment at peace. Neighbourhood safety, including the area’s crime rate, social disorder, and proximity to authorities (Pak & Gannon, 2023). Access to amenities, such as green spaces (Aronson et al., 2017), schools, malls, grocery stores, and public transportation (Wardman & Bristow, 2004). Moreover, social support or comfort, which consists of friends, family, close neighbours, acquaintances, community, or any level of social relationships, gives individuals a sense of belongingness and emotional support (Torres et al., 2021) as positive interactions and support contribute to higher satisfaction with living conditions.

8. Marital status

Marriage is a crucial aspect of a person’s life cycle, and marital pleasure is a key determinant of life satisfaction (Zhang & Liang, 2023). People get married and expect it to be satisfying throughout their lifetime (Karney & Bradbury, 2020). Studies revealed that if marriage is stable, it is a significant indication of a healthier spouse (Robles et al., 2014) with a longer life span (Whisman et al., 2018). Additionally, marital status reflects psychological state, perceived costs, benefits, and income (Baumeister, 2007). Income has been used as a significant indication of marital status (Dakin & Wampler, 2008), perhaps significantly related to marital stability (LeBaron-Black et al., 2022).

Our scoping of the literature identified eight social parameters useful for social mapping exercises. These parameters intersect with environmental attributes. Overlaying these social parameters with the technical data will provide a nuanced understanding of the intersections of the area’s social, economic, environmental, and technical characteristics, thus, they will provide insights into how anthropogenic activities and population dynamics are influenced by environmental conditions or vice versa, thereby providing a holistic approach to any environmental studies.

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About the authors

Marlon Suelto is a PhD student at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. He researches geohazards, land use planning, urban planning, Eco-DRR, Geographic Information System (GIS) and environmental planning. He has worked with mapping systems of government agencies to lead their environmental impact studies focused on articulating environmental policies.

Dennis Alonzo is a senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales Sydney. He researches the intersections of curriculum, assessment, equity, evaluation of educational programmes, and teacher education and development. He has worked with educational systems and schools nationally and internationally to lead their assessment reforms focused on articulating policies, developing assessment resources, implementing professional development, and changing teachers’ beliefs and practices.