Willingness to pay for upper-caste status

How much are individuals willing to pay for privileged status in a society with systemic discrimination? Utilizing unique data on indentured Indians in Fiji paying to return to India, I calculate how much upper-caste individuals were willing to pay historically for their status. I show the lower bound of the value of the uppermost castes in north India equaled almost 2.5 years’ gross wages. The ordering follows hypothesized inter-caste hierarchies and shows diminishing effects as caste status falls. Men entirely drive the effects. My results show some of the first evidence quantifying caste status values and speak to caste’s persistence.

Here is the paper by Alexander Persaud, with data from the turn of the 20th century, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.


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