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Consumption and Social Identity: Evidence From India

  • Melanie Khamis

    (Wesleyan University)

  • Nishith Prakash

    (University of Connecticut)

  • Zahra Siddique


We examine spending on consumption items which have signaling value in social interactions across groups with distinctive social identities in India, where social identities are defined by caste and religious affiliations. Using nationally representative micro data on household consumption expenditures, we find that disadvantaged caste groups such as Other Backward Castes spend eight percent more on visible consumption than Brahmin and High Caste groups while social groups such as Muslims spend fourteen percent less, after controlling for differences in permanent income, household assets and household demographic composition. The differences across social groups are significant and robust and these differences persist within different sub populations. We find that the higher spending of OBC households on visible consumption is diverted from education spending, while Muslim households divert spending from visible consumption and education towards greater food spending. Additionally, we find that these consumption patterns can be partly explained as a result of the status signaling nature of the consumption items. We also discuss alternative sources of differences in consumption patterns across groups which stem from religious observance. JEL Classification: D12, D70, O10 Key words: Households, Consumption, India

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Paper provided by University of Connecticut, Department of Economics in its series Working papers with number 2012-28.

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Length: 43 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:uct:uconnp:2012-28
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  1. Peter Kuhn & Peter Kooreman & Adriaan Soetevent & Arie Kapteyn, 2011. "The Effects of Lottery Prizes on Winners and Their Neighbors: Evidence from the Dutch Postcode Lottery," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(5), pages 2226-47, August.
  2. Ori Heffetz, 2011. "A Test of Conspicuous Consumption: Visibility and Income Elasticities," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 93(4), pages 1101-1117, November.
  3. Moav, Omer & Neeman, Zvika, 2008. "Conspicuous Consumption, Human Capital and Poverty," CEPR Discussion Papers 6864, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Siddique, Zahra, 2011. "Evidence on Caste Based Discrimination," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(S1), pages S146-S159.
  5. Ireland, Norman J., 1994. "On limiting the market for status signals," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 91-110, January.
  6. Banerjee, Abhijit & Duflo, Esther, 2006. "The Economic Lives of the Poor," CEPR Discussion Papers 5968, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Robert H. Frank, 2005. "Positional Externalities Cause Large and Preventable Welfare Losses," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 137-141, May.
  8. Francis Bloch & Vijayendra Rao & Sonalde Desai, 2004. "Wedding Celebrations as Conspicuous Consumption: Signaling Social Status in Rural India," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(3).
  9. Veblen, Thorstein, 1899. "The Theory of the Leisure Class," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number veblen1899.
  10. Glazer, Amihai & Konrad, Kai A, 1996. "A Signaling Explanation for Charity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(4), pages 1019-28, September.
  11. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:124:y:2009:i:2:p:425-467 is not listed on IDEAS
  12. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:115:y:2000:i:3:p:715-753 is not listed on IDEAS
  13. 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 349-73, June.
  14. Basu, Kaushik, 1989. "A Theory of Association: Social Status, Prices and Markets," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 41(4), pages 653-71, October.
  15. Kerwin Kofi Charles & Erik Hurst & Nikolai Roussanov, 2007. "Conspicuous Consumption and Race," NBER Working Papers 13392, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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