Inequality in India is driven by many different factors but how much is down to circumstance? According to new research by Akanksha Choudhary of Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai and others, a significant portion of inequality, at least among women, can be explained by ‘circumstantial’ factors.

These factors are broadly defined as those that lie beyond the control of a person such as their parent’s education, their caste, and their religion. The authors show that these circumstantial factors affect economic outcomes of Indian women differently.

To show this, the authors analyse data from the India Human Development Survey (2011-12). After identifying the circumstantial factors for women, they explore how these factors affect economic outcomes (specifically income and consumption).

They find that up to one-fourth of the total income inequality among women aged 15 years and above in India is due to unequal circumstance. In urban India, of all the circumstantial factors, parental education has the largest effect. Daughters of educated parents enjoying greater incomes and consumption. In rural India, though, the most important contributor is the region of birth. The authors explain that parental education may have less significance in the rural hinterlands because the lack of educational infrastructure curtails the options available to parents related to schooling decisions for their children.

In terms of regions, unsurprisingly, the authors find that being born in a poorer place (such as the central and eastern region) has important implications for future economic outcomes. These effects cut across both cities and villages in the region.

Finally, in both rural and urban areas, they find that religion contributes significantly to income inequalities among women. The average income and consumption expenditure of Muslims is substantially lower than Hindus.

Also Read: Inequality of Opportunity in Indian Women

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