Association between Caste and Class in India: Evolution of Caste-Class Dynamics during Economic Growth

Vaishali Kohli, Faculty of Economics, South Asian University, India

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Caste and class are two major markers of social and economic stratification in India. They play a crucial role in sustaining and strengthening the process of social exclusion. It has been often expected that the process of economic growth and modernization may weaken the congruence between caste and class structures and induce social and economic mobility, thereby bringing about a change in the socio-economic environment. In this paper, we focus on the celebrated period of high economic growth in India during the previous decade to study the evolution of caste-class dynamics, to analyze the pattern of association between caste and class positions, and to examine whether this association/congruence has weakened during this period. The analysis is based on four rounds of employment-unemployment surveys of the National Sample Survey Organization covering the period 1999-2012. We construct a matrix of caste and class positions of repeated cross-sections of individuals that shows whether different caste groups are over- or under-represented in different class positions and how these representations have changed over time. We then use a multinomial logistic regression framework to capture the role of caste in explaining the conditional probability of an individual to belong to a particular class position, after controlling for other critical explanatory variables. We further examine how the explanatory role of caste has changed over time. Additionally, we explore the role of education, a crucial channel for socioeconomic mobility, in explaining the class positions of individuals belonging to different caste groups over time. Finally, we examine the impact of high economic growth in determining the class position of an individual in general, as well as for different caste groups over time. The analysis shows that caste has continued to remain an important factor in explaining class locations of individuals during the period of high economic growth. Further, the caste-class associations have continued to persist across different categories of education over time. While there has been a partial weakening of certain associations during the period, particularly for the Other Backward Castes and in some parts of the rural sector, the overall picture is more of continuity than change, with further strengthening and reinforcement of caste-class congruence along several axes. This calls into question the 2 expectations about social mobility with economic growth as well as the nature of economic growth in India.

Keywords: caste and class dynamics, economic growth, social mobility, social exclusion, patterns of social development

Suggested citation:
Kohli, Vaishali. 2023. “Association between Caste and Class in India: Evolution of Caste-Class Dynamics during Economic Growth.” Centre for Sustainable Employment Working Paper #56. Azim Premji University, Bangalore.