Caste and Wealth Inequality in India

In this paper, we conduct the novel exercise of analyzing the relationship between overall wealth inequality and caste divisions in India using nationally representative surveys on household wealth conducted during 1991–92 and 2002–03. According to our findings, the groups in India that are generally considered disadvantaged (known as Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes) have, as one would expect, substantially lower wealth than the “forward” caste groups, while the Other Backward Classes and non-Hindus occupy positions in the middle. Using the ANOGI decomposition technique, we estimate that between-caste inequality accounted for about 13 percent of overall wealth inequality in 2002–03, in part due to the considerable heterogeneity within the broadly defined caste groups. The stratification parameters indicate that the forward caste Hindus overlap little with the other caste groups, while the latter have significantly higher degrees of overlap with one another and with the overall population. Using this method, we are also able to comment on the emergence and strengthening of a “creamy layer,” or relatively well-off group, among the disadvantaged castes, especially the Scheduled Tribes.

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