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Poverty and public celebrations in rural India


  • Rao, Vijayendra


The author examines the paradox of very poor households, spending large sums on celebrations. Using qualitative, and quantitative data from South India, the author demonstrates that spending on weddings, and festivals can be explained by integrating an anthropological understanding of how identity is shaped in Indian society, with an economic analysis of decision-making under conditions of extreme poverty, and risk. The author argues that publicly observable celebrations have two functions: they provide a space for maintaining social reputations, and webs of obligation, and, they serve as arenas for status-making competitions. The first role is central to maintaining the networks essential for social relationships, and coping with poverty. The second is a correlate of mobility that may become more prevalent as incomes rise. Development policies that favor individual over collective action, reduce the incentives for the networking function, and increase the incentives for status-enhancing functions - thus reducing social cohesion, and increasing conspicuous consumption. Market-driven improvements in urban employment, for example, could reduce a family's dependence on its traditional networks, could reduce incentives to maintain these networks, and could reduce social cohesion within a village, and thus its capacity for collective action. In contrast, micro-finance programs, and social funds try to retain, and even build a community's capacity for collective action.

Suggested Citation

  • Rao, Vijayendra, 2001. "Poverty and public celebrations in rural India," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2528, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:2528

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Martin Ravallion & Shaohua Chen, 2011. "Weakly Relative Poverty," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 93(4), pages 1251-1261, November.
    2. Vincenzo Lombardo, 2012. "Social inclusion and the emergence of development traps," Discussion Papers 1_2012, D.E.S. (Department of Economic Studies), University of Naples "Parthenope", Italy.
    3. Ravallion, Martin & Lokshin, Michael, 2010. "Who cares about relative deprivation?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 73(2), pages 171-185, February.
    4. Martin Ravallion, 2016. "Toward better global poverty measures," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 14(2), pages 227-248, June.
    5. Moav, Omer & Neeman, Zvika, 2008. "Conspicuous Consumption, Human Capital and Poverty," CEPR Discussion Papers 6864, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    6. Omer Moav and & Zvika Neeman, 2012. "Saving Rates and Poverty: The Role of Conspicuous Consumption and Human Capital," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 122(563), pages 933-956, September.
    7. Ravallion,Martin & Chen,Shaohua, 2017. "Welfare-consistent global poverty measures," Policy Research Working Paper Series 8170, The World Bank.
    8. Kathleen Kuehnast & Nora Dudwick, 2004. "Better a Hundred Friends than a Hundred Rubles? Social Networks in Transition--The Kyrgyz Republic," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 14935, March.
    9. Jellal, Mohamed, 2014. "Diaspora transferts statut social et inégalité
      [Diaspora remittances social status and inequality]
      ," MPRA Paper 57325, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    10. Yamada, Katsunori, 2008. "Macroeconomic implications of conspicuous consumption: A Sombartian dynamic model," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 322-337, July.
    11. Martin Ravallion, 2013. "The Idea of Antipoverty Policy," NBER Working Papers 19210, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.


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