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Ashwini Deshpande ─ Which Indian Children are Short and Why? The Indian Enigma, Social Identity, and Childhood Malnutrition

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

9:30 a.m. – 11 a.m.

Email WatsonEvents@brown.edu to register for this virtual event.

India has been long identified with extremely high rates of child malnutrition - the so-called `Indian Enigma' - that are not explained by economic factors. We show that the Indian shortfall is driven entirely by the lower stunting rates of children from the lower-ranked and stigmatized castes. Motivated by this empirical finding, we first show caste gaps in childhood stunting are sizeable and did not decline in the last two decades. Second, employing longitudinal data, we show that these gaps in childhood malnutrition are not transient, and are even larger at age 15 than at age 5. The caste gaps in child malnutrition are stable at all levels of education and asset ownership, indicating that caste is not a proxy for class. We also show that caste is not a proxy for differential access to sanitation and varying exposure to disease environment. Exploring mechanisms that underlie the persistence of caste gaps in stunting, we provide evidence on the importance of stigmatizing but illegal practice of untouchability in affecting height-for-age z scores of children from the stigmatized castes.

Development and Governance Seminar

Ashwini Deshpande is Professor of Economics and the Founding Director of Centre for Economic Data and Analysis (CEDA) at Ashoka University.

Her Ph.D. and early publications have been on the international debt crisis of the 1980s. Subsequently, she has been working on the economics of discrimination and affirmative action, with a focus on caste and gender in India. She is the author of "Grammar of Caste: economic discrimination in contemporary India", Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2011 (Hardcover) and 2017 (Paperback); and "Affirmative Action in India', Oxford University Press, New Delhi, Oxford India Short Introductions series, 2013. She is the editor of "Boundaries of Clan and Color: Transnational Comparisons of Inter-Group Disparity" (along with William Darity, Jr.), Routledge, London, 2003; "Globalization and Development: A Handbook of New Perspectives", Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007 (Hardcover) and 2010 (Paperback); "Capital Without Borders: Challenges to Development", Anthem Press, UK, 2010 (Hardcover) and 2012 (Paperback) and "Global Economic Crisis and the Developing World" (with Keith Nurse), Routledge, London, 2012. She received the EXIM Bank award for outstanding dissertation (now called the IERA Award) in 1994, and the 2007 VKRV Rao Award for Indian economists under 45.