Economic Transition, Dualism, and Informality in India: Nature and Patterns of Household-level Transitions

Surbhi Kesar, Azim Premji University

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We examine the Indian economy during a peak period of high growth between 2005-2012 to analyze nature and patterns of household-level transitions across the different sectors of the economy and to relate these transitions to the broader process of structural change. We use a pan-India household-level panel data to categorize households according to their primary income sources into seven sectors characterized by varying degrees of formality/informality and various production structures and labour processes. We find that even this this relatively brief period, there has been a very large volume of transitions of households across these sectors. However, despite such volumes of transitions, the overall economic structure, and its segmentations, has continued to be reproduced, along with a regeneration of ‘traditional’ informal spaces that were often expected to dissolve over time with high economic growth. To ascertain the nature of these transitions – ‘favorable’ or ‘unfavorable’ – in terms of economic well-being of households, we employ a counterfactual analysis. We find that a majority of the transitions in the economy during the period of analysis have been ‘unfavourable’ in nature, with large proportion of households transitioning to sectors that are not ‘optimal’ locations for them, given their socio-economic characteristics. Further, using a multinomial logit regression framework, we find that the likelihood and nature of these transitions significantly vary with household characteristics, some of which, like social caste, are structurally given and cannot be optimally chosen by households. This dynamic process of reproducing a rather stagnant structure, along with substantial ‘unfavourable’ transitions towards ‘traditional’ informal economic spaces that are continuously reshuffled and reconstituted, provide insights into the complexity of India’s development trajectory that is often glossed over in the literature.

Keywords: transition, informality, dualism, segmentation, structural transformation
JEL classification: O17, J60, J46, O10

Suggested citation:

Kesar, Surbhi. 2020. “Economic Transition, Dualism, and Informality in India: Nature and Patterns of Household-level Transitions.” Centre for Sustainable Employment Working Paper #31, Azim Premji University, Bangalore.