A Gender-Based Theory of the Origin of the Caste System of India

Research Seminars
Academic Areas Economics and Public Policy
Professor Mukesh Eswaran, Vancouver School of Economics, University of British Columbia.
December 23, 2014 | 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM | Tuesday
AC 8 MLT, Hyderabad, India
Open to Public
Abstract: We propose a theory of the origins of India's caste system by explicitly recognizing the productivity of women in complementing their husbands’ occupation-specific skill. The theory explains the core features of the caste system: its hereditary and hierarchical nature, and its insistence on endogamy (marriage only within castes). Endogamy is embraced by a group to minimize an externality that arises when group members marry outsiders. We demonstrate why the caste system embodies gender asymmetries in punishments for violations of endogamy and tolerates hypergamy (marrying up) more than hypogamy (marrying down). Our model also speaks to other aspects of caste, such as commensality restrictions and arranged/child marriages. We suggest that India's caste system is so unique because the Brahmins sought to preserve and orally transmit the Hindu scriptures for over a millennium with no script. We show that economic considerations were of utmost importance in the emergence of the caste system