Crossing Caste Boundaries in the Modern Indian Marriage Market
Studies in Comparative International Development, May 2015
23 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2015
Date Written: May 8, 2015
Though caste remains a major social cleavage and a source of social exclusion in India, three factors now rise against it: a diversifying middle class, urbanization, and a demographic youth bulge. While conventional wisdom suggests that Indians marry within their own caste, we find that in the urban, middle-class marriage market, which increasingly includes members of lower castes, openness to intercaste marriage is substantial and varies within and across groups. Why are some more open to intercaste marriage? Drawing on a semi-experimental study of 1070 marriage market participants belonging to both Scheduled and upper castes, we argue that interest in intercaste marriage is rooted in a desire for upward mobility and governed by the principle of exchange. Those who can benefit from an exchange and who have high class or caste status to offer are more likely to express an interest in intermarriage. Among Scheduled Caste individuals, interest in intermarriage increases with income, while among upper caste individuals the opposite is true. We also find that the Scheduled Caste groups in our study are more interested in intermarriage than the upper caste ones. Increasing openness to intermarriage – particularly when upper castes are willing to marry lower (backward and Scheduled) castes – is a sign of social inclusion in urban India.
Keywords: Caste boundaries, Intermarriage, Upwardmobility, Status exchange, Urban, middle-class India
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