This paper presents a method for the analysis of socio-ecological patterns of vulnerability of people being at risk of losing their livelihoods as a consequence of global environmental change. This method fills a gap in methodologies for vulnerability analysis by providing generalizations of the factors that shape vulnerability in specific socio-ecological systems and showing their spatial occurrence. The proposed method consists of four steps that include both quantitative and qualitative analyses. To start, the socio-ecological system exposed to global environmental changes that will be studied needs to be determined. This could, for example, be farmers in drylands, urban populations in coastal areas and forest-dependent people in the tropics. Next, the core dimensions that shape vulnerability in the socio-ecological system of interest need to be defined. Subsequently, a set of spatially explicit indicators that reflect these core dimensions is selected. Cluster analysis is used for grouping the indicator data. The clusters found, referred to as vulnerability profiles, describe different typical groupings of conditions and processes that create vulnerability in the socio-ecological system under study, and their spatial distribution is provided. Interpretation and verification of these profiles is the last step in the analysis. We illustrate the application of this method by analysing the patterns of vulnerability of (smallholder) farmers in drylands. We identify eight distinct vulnerability profiles in drylands that together provide a global overview of different processes taking place and sub-national detail of their distribution. By overlaying the spatial distribution of these profiles with specific outcome indicators such as conflict occurrence or migration, the method can also be used to understand these phenomena better. Analysis of vulnerability profiles will in a next step be used as a basis for identifying responses to reduce vulnerability, for example, to facilitate the transfer of best practices to reduce vulnerability between different places.