Which are the happiest castes?

There is a new paper on that topic by Bert Van Landeghem at Sheffield, here are the main results:

A large number of empirical studies have investigated the link between social status and happiness, yet in observational data identification challenges remain severe. This study exploits the fact that in India people are assigned a caste from birth. Two identical surveys of household heads (each with N=1000) in rural Punjab and Andhra Pradesh show an increasing pattern in economic welfare across the hierarchy of castes. This illustrates that at least in rural regions, one’s caste is still an important determinant for opportunities in life. Subsequently, we find that the castes at the top are clearly more satisfied than the lower and middle castes. This result, which is in line with predictions of all major social comparison theories, is robust across the two case studies. The pattern across low and middle castes, however, is less clear, reflecting the complex theoretical relationship between being of middle rank on the one hand, and behaviour, aspirations and well-being on the other hand. In the Punjab sample, we even find a significant U-shape, the middle castes being the least happy. Interestingly, these patterns resemble those found for Olympic Medalists (first documented by Medvec et al. 1995).

I am looking forward to my conversation with Sujatha Gidla.


Psychologist/ judoka David Ricky Matsumoto published an article way back showing that Olympic judokas (柔道家) were happier when they won gold medals (than those who didn't), but bronze medalists were happier than silver medalists. Probable reason being that silver medalists focused on what they didn't get (just barely falling short of the Big Prize), while bronze medalists were happy they got any medal at all.

by the way, on behalf of my wife, who people like you consider lower caste - and who has suffered numerous insults from sad proud little people in their sad little higher castes - Tyler, you should be ashamed of yourself. Seriously. I expected better of you.

I respect you, Professor Cowen. Please delete your racist post. Which are the happiest castes? Are you kidding me? What caste are you, Tyler? If not a top caste, which lower caste are you? Hey and what about your wife? If she is in a lower caste, too, are you cool with that? Delete your racist post: nobody will notice.

Or explain why it is cool that dark-skinned Indians are lesser than light-skinned Indians. Delete this post - you are not a racist. And if you do not delete this post - please explain what level of happiness you would have if people considered you a lower caste. I look forward to your attempt at an explanation. There is no way I will be convinced .... I hate racial prejudice - but you are a really smart guy, and maybe you can say something useful about how you think it is ok to blatter about how some lower castes are happy at their lowliness. I will be ashamed of you if you do so: but I wonder what you could say. I know you hate racial prejudice too. Once again, when you say preposterous things about higher and lower castes, you are likely to be saying vicious cruel things about my wife. Tyler, you poor sad idiot: insulting my wife is not something you will ever be proud of.

Please delete your "happiest castes" post, Tyler. You are not a racist.

Well, maybe you are. I hope not, though.

On the bright side, if you don't delete this post, I never have to take you seriously again. "Happiest castes" indeed: what was that line in that old song about the happy darkies down in old Virginny?

Good morning, Tyler. Delete this post. You messed up, nobody will care if you quickly fix your mistake.

I will be proud of you if you delete this post. Do it.

It is easy to do the right thing. Delete this racist post. You are not a racist.

Do the right thing.

Do the right thing, You are better than this.

And no, India is not a complicated place. Racism is wrong everywhere. Delete this post, Tyler.

I will be proud of you if you delete this post. Do it.

For the love of God, delete this post. And if you don't, don't try and say you are just a victim of Apserger's syndrome. I told you it was hurtful to many of us who have Indian wives from what the vicious racists of that country often call "lower castes". You understood what I was saying. Delete this post, Tyler.

Well, I tried. You can have the last word: as useless as such a thing is, compared to the opportunity not to support racism.

Do you cuck in real life too?

From the article: "The subjective well-being question in the survey is specified as follows: “How happy are
you?” with the following answer options: “very happy; happy; more or less happy; not
happy/not unhappy; more or less unhappy; unhappy; very unhappy.” These answers are com-
pressed into a 5-point measure by taking categories 5, 6 and 7 together since these contained
only very few observations.4 Next, the happiness measure is encoded in reverse order such
that 1 accords with very low happiness, and 5 with very high happiness."

LOL at how this is supposed to be research.

And I wonder if people who promote this sort of research also take seriously the studies that claim that womens' self-reported happiness has decreased with increased "equality".

>LOL at how this is supposed to be research.

Sometimes you have to "hide the decline," know what I'm saying?

What is your concrete criticism?

It may be simplistic, but if there are consistent results then it is measuring something, and it seems very likely that that something is related to happiness.

The vaguer the assertion and more subjective its interpretation, the higher the standards of consistency demanded. "One person did a study of two states in India and the overall patterns match with substantial differences in detail" is hardly more than an anecdote.

Asking people how happy they are, how satisfied they are with their life, life satisfaction, subjective sense of well-being, and such similar questions, is how happiness and so on, being subjective phenomena, are typically measured, often adjusted for cultural factors, especially in large aggregates. (Obviously one-shot measurements are less useful than measurements over time, which can tell us that whatever is being measured is probably changing, and then we can look at externals to see what might be driving it). The research among judokas, that I referenced above by David Ricky Matsumoto, was done by videoing medalists' smiles as they received their medals. Fake smiles can be distinguished from real smiles with a good degree of reliability, obviously.

"This result, which is in line with predictions of all major social comparison theories ...": and no doubt consistent with the predictions of the Man in the Pub.

"... is how happiness and so on, being subjective phenomena, are typically measured": the fact that a bunch of duds enter a conspiracy to pretend that such rubbish is meaningful does not require the rest of us to refrain from throwing rotten vegetables at them.

Self-Esteem is measured in the same way (essentially). You're right, it's all rubbish. People don't know if they're happy (etc.) or not, or how they feel about themselves. It's just rubbish, that's all there is to it. Says Dearieme and the other well-known authorities on psychology who populate this forum.

This is similar to the problem of measuring the effectiveness of anti-depressant drugs. A tool called the Hamilton depression scale is used, which is a questionnaire. I've long wondered just how accurate this is.

Oddly, there is a rodent model which correlates with the Hamilton. It's called the Forced Swimming Test. If you read the protocol, you'll wonder why someone decided to torture rodents this way.

First of all the term "castes at the top" makes no sense. As castes are not hierarchical. They are merely "different" from each other in umpteen different ways.

The hierarchy theoretically exists only with "varna" not caste.

Also, we have no inequality in the US. Just differences in material wealth.

shrikanthk is not denying caste discrimination or caste oppression. He is making a theological, non-sociological, point.

Even when it comes to the so-called hierarchical varnas, the hierarchy is not pertaining to "social status" but ritual status. I repeat ritual status.

It is not written in any Indian document (be it secular or religious) that a Brahmin is "socially" superior to a Vaishya or a sudra. The hierarchy is one of ritual status. Not social status.

Theory is not as relevant as what is done in practice. I'm not sure if you are stating there is no caste discrimination. From my northern India experiences, in practice there is caste discrimination, mostly aimed at the bottom rungs. It is plain to see in a walk through Delhi.

All well and fine from the perspective of theology/philosophy. But the way the society has been running for at least a millenium, there has been a structure of social hierarchy; being born in certain jatis gave you higher prestige in practice etc. This is what the article referred to. And this is what, I presume, Roadrunner assumed you to be denying.

Why would I deny something as obvious.

But one has to understand the "caste oppression" is fluid, and takes different forms in each region and varies every few decades. In Southern India, Brahmins for instance are too few and too urbanized to "oppress" anyone. Most of the oppression is perpetrated by one low caste against an even "lower" caste.

If you ask me, is there a basis for this oppression in terms of any hierarchy mandated by tradition? No. Period. These are social tensions whose forms vary as power equations vary over time and region.

Also please correct me if I am wrong.

Prior to late 19th / early 20th century, there was no centralized list of "untouchable castes" maintained by any central Indian / hindu body. Untouchability was a local evil. What has made the Dalit stigma to last well into the 21st century is the creation of these "scheduled caste" lists - which is a product of Indology and academic study of Hindu society.

Had we never created these "lists", a lot of the stigma which Dalits face today would have naturally reduced under the influence of economic growth and rapid urbanization.

Sure. Not denying "oppression"

But then oppression is universal. Takes different forms. And it can be both real and imagined. The terms "privileged" and "oppressed" are not water tight categories. One is often a member of both.

There is no dearth of oppression even among dalits themselves.

But statistically there indeed is a distribution of privilege skewed in favor of brahmins and against dalits, and dalits were far more oppressed than any other group. I think relativizing it is in bad taste. Swami Vivekananda once wrote to a king saying that the Islamic and British invasions were karmic retributions for caste oppression.

Sure. Dalits have suffered a lot.

But it is in equally bad taste to call Islamic vandalism as karmic retribution for anything. Sorry Vivekanand. Not with you on that.

"skewed in favor of brahmins "

In northern India this isn't the case. Privilege rests primarily with the non Brahmin upper castes. This includes Kayasths, Baniyas, and Khatris - to name three groups. All of them way ahead of Brahmins in terms of material wealth and educational accomplishment. All three groups are/were ritually low-status if you were to ask a traditionalist.

Brahmins of the north indian plain are arguably poorer than many "backward castes" of southern India (like Reddys or Vellalars).

Also castes have risen and fallen in status over time.

A caste like Nadars in Tamil nadu was a very backward caste on most parameters some 200 years ago. Today, both Hindu and Christian Nadars of Tamil Nadu are upwardly very mobile. Would this upward mobility have happened had the British Raj administrators tagged them as "scheduled" for some reason and stigmatized them for eternity? I'd say that would have hurt their chances immeasurably.

The point I am making is - the greatest handicap Dalits face today is the stigma of being classified "Dalit". That in itself is a far far greater handicap than any overt oppression or exploitation of them by any group.

And that stigma unfortunately has official sanction because of these "scheduled" lists. In the absence of those lists, many untouchables of yore would've moved on from the past and created sanitized, illustrious histories for their clans. Everyone seeks importance. But these lists however well intentioned, have maimed entire groups of people for eternity. Very very unfortunate.

"the greatest handicap Dalits face today is the stigma of being classified “Dalit” "

Most dalits are proud to be identified as dalits. For centuries they were oppressed and made to be feel ashamed and branded as untouchables. This is their middle finger to their oppressors (which is almost everyone else)

And even the ritual hierarchy of a varnas correlates very poorly with economic well being in most parts of the country.

The ritually low kayasths rank higher than the ritually high brahmins on every dimension in northern India. Be it education, income, wealth or power.

This is consistent with Tolkien's observation that people in Middle Earth are the least happy, followed by people in Lower Earth, and only people in Upper Earth are significantly happy.

Or as they said on the Apollo missions, only astronauts get high.

By the way, different groups reporting different levels of happiness is universal. Not uniquely Indian. And I contend castes are universal too.

To this day, I suspect it is accurate to contend that WASPs of the north east are arguably "happier" than the Irish of the north east, who in turn are happier than the Scot-Irish of West Virginia. Fair?

Tyler - Why shouldn't we regard these groups as castes? Why single out India? Sure, you may argue that these groups are not strictly endogamous unlike the Indian castes. But endogamy is loosening in India too. And the American racial groups were also observing endogamy not that long ago. It was uncommon for a WASP in Boston to marry a Scot-Irish person from Kentucky 100 years ago

Someone got triggered...

You might want to read look up mood affiliation: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2011/03/the-fallacy-of-mood-affiliation.html

He offers an interesting perspective on a topic I don't claim to know much about, but yeah... The guy is clearly emotionally interested in defending his identity group. Buyer beware.

"The guy is clearly emotionally interested in defending his identity group"

that's an understatement.

The caste system in it's current form became part of the religion and that has survived until today. I believe it is fair to focus on this aspect. Going back 500 years and earlier most of the world operated in some form of a caste system but they are otherwise not around anymore.

As I had always suspected, the caste system in it's current form is not native to Hinduism. In reading the Buddha's story, there are things that didn't match up with our current version of caste. A couple years ago this came out and resolved the issue in my mind: http://www.pnas.org/content/113/6/1594.abstract

"Analysis of ancestral haplotype blocks revealed that extant mainland populations (i) admixed widely irrespective of ancestry, although admixtures between populations was not always symmetric, and (ii) this practice was rapidly replaced by endogamy about 70 generations ago, among upper castes and Indo-European speakers predominantly. This estimated time coincides with the historical period of formulation and adoption of sociocultural norms restricting intermarriage in large social strata. A similar replacement observed among tribal populations was temporally less uniform."

The caste system in it's current form was created by a specific ruling empire over a thousand years ago.

Endogamy becoming the norm about 2000 years ago after about 2300 years of mixing has been well-known for a few years; this much is genetics, and hence reasonably reliable (warning: they use microsatellite data, I don't know enough genetics to know if that is reliable enough for such a conclusion). But I doubt you can conclude from here that there was a specific ruling empire that created caste system in its current form, or even when it really came into the current form.

That "genetic" fact of no mixing in past 2300 years after 2000 years of mixing is often misunderstood and interpreted as the establishment of caste system some 2K years ago.

It has to be understood in the context of Indian history. But geneticists don't read much history. That's a problem. The reason you see a lot of "mixing" before 0AD and very little after 0AD is because all mass migrations to India causing gene inflow happened by and large prior to 0AD.

This includes the earliest layer of Aryan invasions (circa 2000-1500BCE), the gradual movement of the Aryan peoples to Deccan and the deep south (between 1000 and 0AD), the influx of Greeks (300BCE-0AD) and Scythians (200BC to 200AD).

All of India was not colonized before 0AD. It took close to 1000-1500 years for most ancestors of present-day Indians to make their way to the subcontinent. Which is why the admixture dates for most castes range between 2000BCE and 0AD. Once all groups settled, naturally enough, admixture stopped.

Pretty simple. Every group in India has been largely endogamous with minimal gene flow from other groups once they settled down and stopped moving. These admixture dates tell you nothing about caste system or its establishment.

Genetic studies have shown that the ANI-ASI admixture dates for most south Indian brahmins is around 2000-1500BCE, while for a lot of north Indian upper/middle castes it is around 500-0AD. This shows that mixing of people continued much longer up north than in south as new groups kept coming in till the beginning of the Christian era.

How does this article defend caste system in any way?

I would argue that in the pre-industrial society, caste served as a bulwark against "savagery".

In the absence of caste, what you would have is a hobbesian "state of nature" where the most powerful trample over the weak. Caste and Varna with its group obligations and its scepticism of individualism, often prevented abuse of power and served as a guardian of virtue in rural India.

Caste is also one of the reasons why income inequality remains very low in India (v low GINI coefficient). As it is a force of welfare / income redistribution.

It is also a factor that contributes to the remarkably low levels of violence in Indian society

Actually, according to experts, India's totalitarian regime is one of the most unequal of the universe: http://www.livemint.com/Money/MML9OZRwaACyEhLzUNImnO/The-richest-1-of-Indians-now-own-584-of-wealth.html

The toiling masses of India are oppressed by malefactors of great wealth.

GINI is a better measure of income inequality than examining the share of wealth owned by top 1%.

The downtrodden lowest castes are, we are told, happier with their lot than their masters. Maybe a caste society would be the solution to the inquietarions of the impoverished masses of America, then.

Well. In the poorest parts of America like West Virginia or Mississippi, where the Scot-Irish social life has totally collapsed and so has private virtue, I think some kind of a caste system that encourages greater social cohesiveness, greater spirit of communal sharing, and greater social regulation of behavior (very central to Indian caste system), can go a long way in mending the badly bruised society, and morally regenerating it.

Yep, Indians oppressing their brother and sisters is about moral. Why not? Osama bin Laden could point out the real criminals are people who allow women drive cars. There are moral systems for all tastes.

Even in the Indian experience, social problems like husband desertion, alcoholism, drug addiction, are the worst precisely in those parts of India where the caste system today is the weakest - Eg : Punjab. These problems are least observed in the most conservative states where caste remains very strong. Eg : Tamil Nadu

Not quite, it says that the "uppermost" castes are the happiest. It does say that in some places like Punjab middle castes are less happy than dalits because they "aspire" more. Is this last the bit that you consider to be the article's justification for caste?

blah - Digressing a bit, I believe there is a need in public discourse to distinguish between caste system and caste oppression. The latter is one aspect of the former. And what needs condemnation is the latter, not a wholesale denunciation of the former, which has many fine features which have helped hold Indian society together for the past 2 millennia.

I am familiar with this point of view; I have read many who espouse it, including Periyava, for instance. Gandhi too probably had some form of this view early on. However this is not my view, and it will take us far too afield to debate it.

The Swarajya journalist R Jagannathan recently wrote a piece on this. Here it is -


I do believe castes need to become more outward looking and more agreeable to the idea of proselytization and new members. Especially in the case of religious castes which are more bound by religious beliefs / values than by ethnic bond. Eg : Iyengars, Lingayats.

Old fashioned that I am, I still do regard castes as a source of intellectual and moral diversity - much needed in an increasingly globalizing world, which disparages diversity in thought and is very susceptible to groupthink.

Yep, take the middle class prospects of rising and they will be ao much happier.

I suppose the lesson here is that aspirations for rising up above one's original station in life can make one very unhappy if the aspirations aren't fulfilled. Thus, one born in poverty in the ghetto but told again and again she can rise up from her station in life with a combination of ambition an education only to experience disappointment is doomed to an unhappy life, while one born in the same circumstances and accepting her station in life can look forward to a life of relative happiness. Or to be more direct, one born in slavery and not expecting anything other than a life as a slave is happier than one born a slave and expecting both freedom and a much better life is doomed to an unhappy life. Of course, one born in America, the land of freedom and equality of opportunity, expects a better life than that of her parents, and can look forward to a lifetime of unhappiness if it turns out to be a myth. While we don't have castes here in America, we do divide people into groups, from the bottom 10% to the top .1% and everything in-between including that great American middle class that we are repeatedly told is shrinking, not from rising up but from falling down, which makes for a whole lot of unhappy, and often angry, people, the kind of people who might be attracted to an authoritarian making unrealistic promises of rising up.

What a coincidence. Two autographed notes by Albert Einstein on how to live a happy life just sold for $1.8 million, which no doubt made the owners of the notes happy. But Einstein's advice for a happy life might leave one perplexed. “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness," reads one of the notes. The other seems to contradict the first, and reads: “When there's a will, there's a way." https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/10/24/einstein-scribbled-his-theory-of-happiness-in-place-of-a-tip-it-just-sold-for-more-than-1-million/

One can't overlook sex when considering what makes people unhappy. From Harvey Weinstein to Leon Wieseltier. Is sex God's idea of a practical joke? In the ancient world, young women would choose the ascetic life over a life cycle consisting of sex, birth, death, and decay (women often died in childbirth). Former tennis champ Boris Becker said it was "the most expensive five seconds of my life". Often the simplest explanations for an unhappy life or a happy life are the most accurate.

As a black man, I find this racist.

Again, Americans kowtow to the Indians. I wonder what General Custer would have thought of it...

I have it on good authority that the happiest caste is the Beta one.

"Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they're so frightfully clever. I'm really awfully glad I'm a Beta, because I don't work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a beastly colour. I'm so glad I'm a Beta."

I wonder how happy Tyler, clearly a Beta, is? How about all the Gammas and Deltas who comment here>

Alternative explanation: social status is good, but so is public policy aimed at your caste. High castes get social status, low castes get a series of corrective public policies aimed at correcting for their low social status. The middle castes get neither.

Those "middle castes" too get quotas as they are electorally influential. Even in places where they do economically nearly as well as the "upper castes".

Interesting that they chose Punjab and Andhra. I wonder how different would the results be for TN, whose reservation system is extensive and covers most of the middle castes as well.

Comments for this post are closed