Wealth, Hierarchy, and Child Height in Indian Social Groups

Diane Coffey, Princeton University
Ashwini Deshpande, Delhi School of Economics
Jeff Hammer, Princeton University

An active recent literature debates whether social hierarchy and inequality have negative health consequences, and if so for whom. This paper describes a case where social rank matters, and in particular being outranked matters. We study average child height in four population groups in India. We show that the height gap between Scheduled Tribe children and children from general caste, or historically dominant groups, be entirely accounted for by economic wealth. However, even after accounting for economic differences, an important height shortfall remains for Scheduled Caste and Other Backward Class children. Local social rank can fully explain the remaining height gap for lower caste children. We extend our analysis to consider sanitation behavior as a mechanism through which being locally outranked may lead to height gaps between children of the general castes and the lower castes.

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Presented in Poster Session 7: Health and Mortality of Women, Children and Families