IndiaSpend ResearchWire - March 19


In today’s edition, we discuss intergenerational mobility, the challenges, incentives and tensions in India’s bureaucracy during the COVID-19 crisis, enlisting local youth in rural development activities, yet another unintended impact of a gender law, and the distinction between fixed and growth mindsets and the importance of our self-image.

If you have missed any of our earlier editions, you can read them here.

Thank (or blame) your grandfather:

A new working paper by Anustup Kundu and Kunal Sen investigates the persistence of economic and social status across three generations in India; i.e., are you likely to be poor and socially backward if your grandfather was too? 

The paper finds that while there is clear evidence of a ‘grandfather effect’, overall, mobility across three generations in India has increased over time for education, but not so much for occupation.

You may get a better education than your grandfather, but you are likely to hold similar jobs. 

Disaggregated across social groups, the data point to two disturbing trends: 

  1. That multigenerational mobility for Muslims in education and occupation has decreased in comparison to that of Hindus. 

  2. That while the SC/ST and OBCs have become more mobile over generations in their education (compared to General Castes), there is no evidence of an increase in occupational mobility—giving food for thought for all the affirmative action policies. 

Annoyingly, the paper defines the three generations to be grandfather, father, and son. To be fair to the authors, the female members of the household are left out because there are just no data. If you’ve read Caroline Criado Perez’s brilliant book Invisible Women (recommended on these pages before), you’ll know this wouldn’t be the first time!

IAS officers surveyed

Much has been said about India’s governance response through the COVID-19 pandemic, and here’s an attempt to understand it: Folks at the Centre for Policy Research conducted a survey across 500+ officers of the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) to understand the underlying challenges, incentives and tensions that drove India’s bureaucracy during this extraordinarily challenging period. They scrutinise three main relationships:

  1. Between different levels of the state, politicians, and the bureaucracy; and within the bureaucracy;

  2. Between the state, bureaucracy, and the public;

  3. Between the bureaucracy and the civil society, the private sector, international organisations, and the media.

72% of the IAS officers surveyed felt that fellow officers refusing to work due to vulnerability and risk of exposure to infection should be punished. Most bureaucrats serving in poorer states considered local NGOs as allies and critical partners in the fight against COVID-19, while those in richer states were less enthusiastic.

More than half held a negative view of the private sector: Nearly 55% said the sector had not made a significant impact, or that it had capitalised on the crisis to further its own interests.

Read the report for insights into how the famed steel framework thinks and what drives it. You can access it here, and an article on the bureaucracy’s views on civil society and the private sector here.

Town mice or country mice?

Based on their work at the Hindustan Unilever Foundation, Anantika Singh and Reshma Anand argue that there lies great untapped potential among young men and women in villages. 

We no longer need to look at the city-educated to drive development in rural areas. 

Using some good examples from the foundation’s work in groundwater conservation, agricultural advisory, and support to NREGA implementation, the piece argues that with the right training and mentorship, the formalisation of local villagers in the workforce can bring in a new “employability paradigm” for rural India. 

I think it’s a great idea. India’s job creation challenge is staggering, and every out-of-the-box solution must be looked at. There is also no substitute for local network and knowledge to drive local development.

But as the authors point themselves point out, this use of resident talent as frontline workers is not a new concept in India: ASHA workers have long been the backbone of India’s healthcare delivery. However, our systems have failed them miserably. Read here and here about their challenges of low and delayed salaries, unsustainable workloads, absence of protective equipment, social ostracisation, and abuse. Attempts to scale up the foundation’s work in any sustained, systemic way will need to grapple with all these questions.

Women just can’t catch a break

A recent paper by Rossella Calvi and Ajinkya Keskar finds that while India’s Dowry Prohibition Act reduced dowry payments made by the girls’ families, it also brought about a sharp reduction in women’s decision-making power in the household, a surge in domestic violence, and a substantial fall in marital separations. 

The social context is important: These impacts are weaker when there is lower social stigma against separation, i.e. the woman can get out.

The one upside is that lower expected dowry payments in the future led parents of girls to invest more in the daughters’ education—albeit only to “maintain their attractiveness in the marriage market and ensure that they would find a husband”. Read an article summarising the main findings here.

Have you made up your mind about who you are?

Finally, read this on research by American psychologist Carol Dweck who found that what we believe to be our ‘personality’ determines how we approach life. 

Changing even the simplest belief we hold about ourselves can have a profound impact on our lives.

Dweck’s work speaks of the distinction between a fixed mindset (you believe your character, intelligence, and creative ability are static) and a growth mindset (you thrive on challenge and don’t see failure as a sign of unintelligence). The former creates a hunger for approval while the latter leads to a passion for learning. 

It sounds simple, maybe even simplistic but when I first encountered this distinction, I found it deeply insightful. It really made me think about who I believe myself to be and how that stops me from doing what could potentially be life-changing.

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Amee Misra
Contributing Editor, IndiaSpend
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