DP15778 A Division of Laborers: Identity and Efficiency in India

Author(s): Guilhem Cassan, Daniel Keniston, Tatjana Kleineberg
Publication Date: February 2021
Keyword(s):
JEL(s): E24, E71, J21, J62, O15
Programme Areas: Development Economics, Macroeconomics and Growth
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=15778

Workers' social identity affects their choice of occupation, and therefore the structure and prosperity of the aggregate economy. We study this phenomenon in a setting where work and identity are particularly intertwined: the Indian caste system. Using a new dataset that combines information on caste, occupation, wages, and historical evidence of subcastes' traditional occupations, we show that caste members are still greatly overrepresented in their traditional occupations. To quantify the effects of caste-level distortions on aggregate and distributional outcomes, we develop a general equilibrium Roy model of occupational choice. We structurally estimate the model and evaluate counterfactuals in which we remove castes' ties to their traditional occupations: both through their direct preferences, and also via their parental occupations and social networks. We find that the share of workers employed in their traditional occupation decreases substantially. However, effects on aggregate output and productivity are very smallâ?? and in some counterfactuals even negativeâ??because gains from a more efficient human capital allocation are offset by productivity losses from weaker caste networks and reduced learning across generations. Our findings emphasize the importance of caste identity in coordinating workers into occupational networks which enable productivity spillovers.