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Published in: Social Justice Research 3/2019

08-02-2019

The Consequences of Social Inequality for the Health and Development of India’s Children: The Case of Caste, Sanitation, and Child Height

Authors: Melissa LoPalo, Diane Coffey, Dean Spears

Published in: Social Justice Research | Issue 3/2019

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Abstract

The links among social inequality, economic inequality, and health have long been of interest to social scientists, but causal links are difficult to investigate empirically. In particular, studies examining the impact of social status on one’s own health may overlook important effects of inequality on the health of populations as a whole occurring due to negative externalities of social forces. A recent literature on caste, sanitation, and child net nutrition provides an example of one social context where social inequality makes an entire population less healthy. This paper presents new observational analysis of the India Human Development Survey that provides descriptive evidence of this mechanism. We show that, on average, children in rural India are shorter if they live in villages where more people report practicing untouchability—meaning that they enforce caste hierarchies in their interactions with people from the lowest castes. This association is explained by the association between casteism and the prevalence of rural open defecation.

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Footnotes
1
This positive relationship between household untouchability and height becomes small and insignificant with the inclusion of household-level socioeconomic and demographic controls, which suggests that this relationship can be explained by the fact that households that untouchability are more advantaged, on average; our focus is on local untouchability.
 
2
The calculation consists of simply subtracting the mean height for the age group from the child’s height and dividing the difference by the age-specific standard deviation.
 
3
In the IHDS, some children are measured lying down, while others are measured standing (according to their age); we control for the position in which they were measured in all analyses.
 
4
The results are robust to using log height (in cm) as the outcome variable rather than height-for-age z-score.
 
5
In results not shown here but available upon request, we exclude Dalit respondents from the computation of each PSU’s fraction of households reporting untouchability. We include this as a robustness check because a small, but positive number of respondents from untouchable castes report that they practice untouchability, which is difficult to interpret. The regression results are qualitatively unchanged, although this necessarily drops from the sample children living in segregated, all-untouchable caste PSUs.
 
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Metadata
Title
The Consequences of Social Inequality for the Health and Development of India’s Children: The Case of Caste, Sanitation, and Child Height
Authors
Melissa LoPalo
Diane Coffey
Dean Spears
Publication date
08-02-2019
Publisher
Springer US
Published in
Social Justice Research / Issue 3/2019
Print ISSN: 0885-7466
Electronic ISSN: 1573-6725
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-019-00323-x

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