Crossing Caste Boundaries in the Modern Indian Marriage Market

Studies in Comparative International Development, May 2015

23 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2015

See all articles by Amit Ahuja

Amit Ahuja

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)

Susan Ostermann

University of California, Berkeley, Students

Date Written: May 8, 2015

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Ahuja, Amit and Ostermann, Susan, Crossing Caste Boundaries in the Modern Indian Marriage Market (May 8, 2015). Studies in Comparative International Development, May 2015. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2626656

Amit Ahuja (Contact Author)

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) ( email )

Santa Barbara, CA 93106
United States

Susan Ostermann

University of California, Berkeley, Students ( email )

525 F. Haas School of Business
Berkeley, CA
United States

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