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Wedding Celebrations as Conspicuous Consumption : Signaling Social Status in Rural India

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  • Bloch, Francis

    (UNIVERSITE CATHOLIQUE DE LOUVAIN, Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES))

  • Rao, Vijayendra

    (The World Bank, Development Research Group)

  • Desai, Sonalde

    (University of Maryland)

Abstract

We examine the determinants of expenditures on wedding celebrations by rural Indian families. Fieldwork, using open-ended interviews and focus group discussions in two villages in Karnataka State in Southern India, suggests that wedding celebrations are to a large extent a signal of social status. Using this information we develop a signaling model of wedding celebrations where the size of the celebration signals the quality of the new groom's family and thus the enhanced social status of the bride's family. Predictions from the model are then tested with survey data from 5 districts in Karnataka using variations in norms of village exogamy as a natural experiment to identify the availability of information on the groom's family to the bride's village. The idea is that when families have to marry grooms outside the village, members of the bride's village will have less information on the groom thus increasing the incentive for the bride's family to signal the groom's quality. The econometric results largely mirror the theoretical predictions.

Suggested Citation

  • Bloch, Francis & Rao, Vijayendra & Desai, Sonalde, 1999. "Wedding Celebrations as Conspicuous Consumption : Signaling Social Status in Rural India," Discussion Papers (IRES - Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales) 1999022, Université catholique de Louvain, Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES).
  • Handle: RePEc:ctl:louvir:1999022
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Fafchamps, Marcel & Quisumbing, Agnes, 2005. "Assets at marriage in rural Ethiopia," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 77(1), pages 1-25, June.
    2. Rao, Vijayendra, 1993. "The Rising Price of Husbands: A Hedonic Analysis of Dowry Increases in Rural India," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(4), pages 666-677, August.
    3. Junsen Zhang & William Chan, 1999. "Dowry and Wife's Welfare: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(4), pages 786-808, August.
    4. Frank, Robert H, 1985. "The Demand for Unobservable and Other Nonpositional Goods," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(1), pages 101-116, March.
    5. Rosen, Sherwin, 1974. "Hedonic Prices and Implicit Markets: Product Differentiation in Pure Competition," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(1), pages 34-55, Jan.-Feb..
    6. Corneo, Giacomo & Jeanne, Olivier, 1997. "Conspicuous consumption, snobbism and conformism," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 66(1), pages 55-71, October.
    7. Francis Bloch & Vijayendra Rao, 2002. "Terror as a Bargaining Instrument: A Case Study of Dowry Violence in Rural India," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(4), pages 1029-1043, September.
    8. Lena Edlund, 2000. "The Marriage Squeeze Interpretation of Dowry Inflation: A Comment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(6), pages 1327-1333, December.
    9. Bagwell, Laurie Simon & Bernheim, B Douglas, 1996. "Veblen Effects in a Theory of Conspicuous Consumption," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 349-373, June.
    10. Fafchamps, Marcel & Quisumbing, Agnes, 2005. "Assets at marriage in rural Ethiopia," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 77(1), pages 1-25, June.
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