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The Caloric Costs of Culture: Evidence from Indian Migrants

  • David Atkin

Anthropologists have long documented substantial and persistent differences across social groups in the preferences and taboos for particular foods. One natural question to ask is whether such food cultures matter in an economic sense. In particular, can culture constrain caloric intake and contribute to malnutrition? To answer this question, I first document that inter-state migrants within India consume fewer calories per Rupee of food expenditure compared to their non-migrant neighbors, even for households with very low caloric intake. I then form a chain of evidence in support of an explanation based on culture: that migrants make nutritionally-suboptimal food choices due to cultural preferences for the traditional foods of their origin states. First, I focus on the preferences themselves and document that migrants bring their origin-state food preferences with them when they migrate. Second, I link together the findings on caloric intake and preferences by showing that the gap in caloric intake between locals and migrants is related to the suitability and intensity of the migrants' origin-state food preferences: the most adversely affected migrants (households in which both husband and wife migrated to a village where their origin-state preferences are unsuited to the local price vector) would consume 7 percent more calories if they possessed the same preferences as their neighbors.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 19196.

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Date of creation: Jul 2013
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19196
Note: DEV POL
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  1. David Atkin, 2013. "Trade, Tastes, and Nutrition in India," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(5), pages 1629-63, August.
  2. Subramanian, S. & Deaton, A., 1994. "The Demand for Food and Calories," Papers 175, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Development Studies.
  3. Pool, Robert, 1987. "Hot and cold as an explanatory model: The example of Bharuch district in Gujarat, India," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 25(4), pages 389-399, January.
  4. Almond, Douglas & Currie, Janet, 2011. "Human Capital Development before Age Five," Handbook of Labor Economics, Elsevier.
  5. S. Narayan, 2009. "India," Chapters, in: The Political Economy of Trade Reform in Emerging Markets, chapter 7 Edward Elgar.
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  7. Raquel Fernández & Alessandra Fogli & Claudia Olivetti, 2004. "Mothers and Sons: Preference Formation and Female Labor Force Dynamics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(4), pages 1249-1299, November.
  8. Paola Giuliano, 2007. "Living Arrangements in Western Europe: Does Cultural Origin Matter?," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 5(5), pages 927-952, 09.
  9. Paola Sapienza & Luigi Zingales & Luigi Guiso, 2006. "Does Culture Affect Economic Outcomes?," NBER Working Papers 11999, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Raquel Fernandez & Alessandra Fogli, 2005. "Culture: an empirical investigation of beliefs, work, and fertility," Staff Report 361, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  11. Bart J. Bronnenberg & Jean-Pierre H. Dube & Matthew Gentzkow, 2012. "The Evolution of Brand Preferences: Evidence from Consumer Migration," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(6), pages 2472-2508, October.
  12. De Groote, Hugo & Kimenju, Simon Chege, 2008. "Comparing consumer preferences for color and nutritional quality in maize: Application of a semi-double-bound logistic model on urban consumers in Kenya," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 33(4), pages 362-370, August.
  13. Bart J. Bronnenberg & Jean-Pierre H. Dube & Matthew Gentzkow, 2010. "The Evolution of Brand Preferences: Evidence from Consumer Migration," NBER Working Papers 16267, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Paarlberg, Robert, 2010. "Food Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195389593, March.
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