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Discriminatory Social Norms and Early Childhood Development

  • Economics Discussion Papers
  • October 26, 2022
  • Ashwini Deshpande, Rajesh Ramachandran

India is home to nearly a third of all world’s stunted children with a prevalence rate of 38.6 percent. A comparison by social groups reveals sharp intergroup disparities, with the upper caste (UC) Hindu children being 57 percent less likely to be stunted compared to Dalit or Scheduled Caste (SC) children. We explore the role of discrimination in shaping disparities in stunting rates between the socioeconomically dominant UCs and the stigmatized SCs. We show that districts with high prevalence of the illegal but widely pervasive stigmatising practice of untouchability have higher rates of stunting among SC children. To show how discriminatory social norms adversely affect early childhood development for stigmatised and marginalised groups, we exploit the fact that the historical geographical span of Hinduism was bounded to the south by the Vindhya mountain range. We compare how the heights and stunting rates of the UC-Hindu and SC children vary within the same state between those living within 100km to the north and south of the Vindhya range using a difference-in-differences (DID) estimator. The DID estimator shows that there are no differences in child height and stunting rates for UC-Hindu children living to the north and south of the Vindhya range. In contrast, the SC children living to the south of the Vindhya range are seen to have 40 percent lower levels of stunting. To illustrate channels, we document disparities across the north and south of the Vindhya range in provision of prenatal and antenatal services for SC mothers, education and health outcomes of SC mothers, as well as disparities in the rates of vaccinations of SC children.

Study at Ashoka

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