Why is Mobility in India so Low? Social Insurance, Inequality, and Growth

CID Faculty Working Paper No. 121

Kaivan Munshi and Mark R. Rosenzweig
July 2005


This paper examines the hypothesis that the persistence of low spatial and marital mobility in rural India, despite increased growth rates and rising inequality in recent years, is due to the existence of sub-caste networks that provide mutual insurance to their members. Unique panel data providing information on caste loans and sub-caste identification are used to show that households that out-marry or migrate lose the services of these networks, which dampens mobility when alternative sources of insurance or finance of comparable quality are unavailable. At the aggregate level, the networks appear to have coped successfully with the rising inequality within sub-castes that accompanied the Green Revolution. Indeed, this increase in inequality lowered overall mobility, which was low to begin with, even further. The results suggest that caste networks will continue to smooth consumption in rural India for the foreseeable future, as they have for centuries.

Keywords: mobility, India, insurance, growth

JEL subject codes: O12, J12, J61