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Social Identity and Educational Attainment: The Role of Caste and Religion in Explaining Differences between Children in India


  • Vani K. Borooah


The aim of this article is to gauge the size of the educational gap between children, aged 8--11 years, belonging to the different social groups in India. It is well established that educational attainments vary considerably between India's caste and religious groups with Muslims, Dalits (the Scheduled Castes), Adivasis (the Scheduled Tribes), and the ‘Other Backward Classes’ (the OBC) being the most backward. Using data from the Indian Human Development Survey of 2005 -- which tested over 12,300 children, aged 8--11, for their ability to read, write, and do arithmetic at different levels of competence -- this study examines inequalities within social groups in the test scores of children to argue that inter-group comparisons of educational attainment should take into account not just the mean level of achievement of the children in a group but, also, the degree of inequality in the distribution of achievements between children in the group. The article then proceeds to enquire why different children have different levels of educational achievement. The central conclusion is that, after controlling for a number of parental, household and school-related factors, children from all the different social groups, when compared to Brahmin children, were disadvantaged, in some or all of the three competencies of reading, arithmetic, and writing. However, this disadvantage was greatest for Muslim, Dalit, and Adivasi children. These children were disadvantaged with respect to all three competencies and their disadvantage embraced failure as well as success. Using a decomposition analysis, the article quantifies the ‘structural advantage’ that Brahmin and High Caste children enjoyed over their Dalit and Muslim counterparts.

Suggested Citation

  • Vani K. Borooah, 2011. "Social Identity and Educational Attainment: The Role of Caste and Religion in Explaining Differences between Children in India," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 48(7), pages 887-903, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:jdevst:v:48:y:2012:i:7:p:887-903
    DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2011.621945

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