This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

The North-South Divide in India

India's recent economic growth naturally attracts a lot of positive attention around the world, but the New York Times very astutely summarizes the fact that the southern states of India are doing much better economically than the northern states, and much of the difference has to do with the caste system (the Indian equivalent to racial stratification in the United States). 

India’s Constitution abolished caste, the social hierarchy that has ordered Indian life for millenniums, and instituted a system of quotas to help those at the bottom rise up. But caste divisions persist nonetheless, with upper castes dominating many spheres of life despite their relatively small numbers.
While in the south lower caste members concentrated on economic development and education as a route to prosperity, in the north the chief aim of caste-based groups has been political power and its spoils. As a result India’s northern lower castes tend to be less educated and less prosperous than their southern counterparts. Charismatic leaders in the north from lower castes have used caste identity as a way to mobilize voters, winning control over several large north Indian states. Caste so thoroughly permeates politics in the northern half of the world’s largest democracy that it is often said that people don’t cast their vote; they vote their caste.
Although the NYT story does not mention the underlying demographic situation, the early emphasis on education among lower castes in the south meant that smaller family sizes and lower infant mortality rates came much earlier to the south, helping families to help themselves. In the southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, fertility had dropped below the replacement level by the mid-1990s and has stayed there since. However, in the four most populous states in the north (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh), where 40 percent of the Indian population lives, the average woman was bearing more than three children, according to the most recent Demographic and Health Survey.

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