Sociology and economics

A few years back I was interviewing a sociology graduate for a scholarship and loudly exclaimed that it was absurd that she had a masters in sociology while not knowing much economics – she had mentioned that her courses in sociology (bachelors and masters) had no “papers” (the word used by students of certain prominent Indian universities when they mean “courses”. The choice of words possibly indicates their priorities) in economics.

It is a result of my prior – everything I know and have learnt about sociology and social behaviour is from the realm of economics and game theory (iterated prisoners’ dilemma and derivatives). I’ve learnt it from reading blogs (Marginal Revolution, Econlog, etc.) and from pop economics books written by authors such as Steven Levitt and Malcolm Gladwell. So every time I think of a sociology problem I can’t think of any method apart from economic reasoning to attack it.

However, it turns out that the use of economic reasoning for sociological analysis is rather recent, and started only with the work of Chicago economist Gary Becker, who wrote a series on love and marriage. Becker’s wife had died, and he was a single father, when he wrote his series of papers on this topic. This is supposed to be one of the first steps in the “creep” of economics into (now) related disciplines such as sociology and political science. This has been uncharitably called by Becker’s critics as “economic imperialism“.

So my exclamation that a masters program in sociology not including a course in economic reasoning being absurd would be valid only in very recent times, when syllabuses would have been updated to keep track of any such above “imperialism” and “creep”. Given the glacial pace at which Indian universities move, however, I think my remark might have actually come across as absurd!

PS: Read this excellent Lunch with FT interview of Gary Becker by Tim Harford.

Marrying out of caste – 2

We stay with our analysis of the National Family Health Survey data on marrying out of caste. In this edition we look at factors that lead to higher rate of inter-caste marriage.

Based on the data given, age definitely has an impact on the rate of inter-caste marriage. To put it in another way, considering the entire survey was conducted at a particular point in time, what this means is that the incidence of inter-caste marriages in India has been steadily increasing, though at a glacial pace.

Women aged 45-49 at the time of survey were only 8.5% likely to marry someone outside their caste, while women aged 15-19 at the time of survey were 11.75% likely to marry outside their caste. This shows there is definitely a shift in rate of inter-caste marriage, but it is a very slow shift.

The other factors that have been examined, however, seem to give fairly contradictory results (compared to “conventional wisdom”, that is), and that forms an important factor in the survey. For example, only 11.6% of rural women surveyed married out of caste while only 10.6% of urban women surveyed did so (while the difference looks small, the sample size makes it statistically significant), turning on its head the conventional wisdom that urbanisation might lead to higher incidence of inter-caste marriages.

Education shows a bizarre pattern, though. Women educated at the school (primary or secondary) level are more likely to marry out of caste than uneducated women (the difference is small, though), but this trend “regresses” as the women get further educated – women with higher education are less likely to marry out of caste than even uneducated women! The pattern is the same with respect to the woman’s husband’s education level also.


There are more sources of contradiction – working women are as likely to marry within caste compared to non-working women (while there is a small difference it is hardly statistically significant, despite the large sample sizes). Standard of living also has no impact on likelihood of marrying within caste (difference too small to be statistically significant).

The most surprising result, though is regarding “exposure to media” (I don’t know how they have measured it). The likelihood of marrying out of caste is highest among women who have declared their access to mass media as “partial exposure”, followed by women whose declared access to mass media is “no exposure”. Women with highest access to mass media (“full exposure”) have, quite counterintuitively, the smallest chance of marrying outside of caste (this is a statistically significant result with high degree of confidence)!

A reasonably dominant discourse nowadays in certain circles is that exposure to media, urbanisation and women going out to work are responsible for destroying “our culture”. If we take likelihood of marrying within caste as a proxy for “culture” (the one that must be preserved as per these worthies), it turns out that urbanisation, access to higher education and exposure to mass media actually help preserve this “culture”, while access to employment for women and nuclear families do little to “destroy” this culture!

Now if we assume the above correlation to imply causation, and incidence of same-caste marriages as preservation of “culture”, what we need to do to preserve our culture is to increase exposure to mass media, access to higher education for women and urbanisation. While we are at it, we can promote nuclear families and access to employment for women also!

If only the Khaps and other self-proclaimed preservers of culture were to look at hard data before making their pronouncements!


Marrying out of caste – 1

This is the first in what is going to hopefully be a long series of posts on inter-caste marriages. As you might have figured out, I’ve stumbled upon a nice data set with lots of data on this topic (Hat tip: Nitin Pai and Rohit Pradhan), and there are some beautiful insights in the data.

The data is based on a National Family Health Survey which was conducted in 2005-06. The sample size of the survey itself was massive – close to a lakh respondents for the entire survey, and about 43,000 women who were surveyed on the inter-caste marriage question alone. So the survey, which was carried out in all states in India, asked “ever-married” women whether they were married to someone from the same caste, or to someone from a higher caste, or to someone from a lower caste. There was also some demographic data collected which leads to some interesting cross-tabs we can explore in either this post or one other of the series.

If there is one single piece of information that can summarise the survey, it is that the national average for the percentage of women who are married to someone of their own caste is 89%, and this number doesn’t vary by much across demographics or region or any other socio-economic indicators.

Of course, there are differences, and some regional differences are vast. For example, 97% of women surveyed in Tamil Nadu were married to someone from the same caste, while the corresponding figure in Punjab is only 80%. Figure 1 here shows the distribution across states of the percentage of women married to men of the same caste.



Different colours here represent different regions of India, and considering that the data in the above graph has been sorted by the value, the reasonably random distribution of colour in this graph (anyone notice a pattern anywhere?) shows that there is no real regional trend. But the inter-state differences represented in this graph are stark (80% to 97%). It raises the question regarding the homogeneity of castes and possibly differing definitions of castes in different states.

For example, some people might define caste as their “varna”, while some might go deeper into the family’s traditional occupation. Others might go further deeper – there is no end to the level you can reach in the caste hierarchy. Might it be possible that the stark regional differences can be explained by the varying definitions of caste?

Another interesting piece of data given is the percentage of women in each state married to either men of a higher or a lower caste. Now, in the interest of natural balance and matching, these two numbers ought to be equal (the paper notices a surprise that these two numbers are equal in most states – but there is no reason to be surprised). Actually we can create an “imbalance index” for each state – the difference between the percentage of women married to men of a higher caste and the percentage of women married to men of a lower caste.

A positive index indicates that women in the state prefer to “marry up” (men of higher caste) than “marry down”. It also indicates that in the absence of inter-state “trade” of marital partners, there will be large numbers of unmarried men of the lowest caste and women of the highest caste in that state! A negative index implies an excess of single men of the highest caste and single women of the lowest caste (both these calculations assume, of course, that the sex ratio is the same across castes). The second figure here plots this index across states. The  colouring scheme is the same.


This shows that there are states with massive imbalances – Maharashtra, for example will end up having a large number of single men of the lowest caste and single women of the highest caste unless they get “cleared” in “trade” with other states. Kerala has the opposite problem. It is interesting to notice that Punjab, which has the highest percentage of inter-caste marriages, also has a reasonably balanced market.

So should we explore if there exists a relationship between the proportion of women married to men of the same caste and how balanced the marriage market is in the state with respect to caste? The hypothesis, based on the example of Punjab in the above two graphs, is that the greater the incidence of inter-caste marriage in a state, the smaller the imbalance in terms of caste in the market. Let’s do a scatter plot which includes the above two bar plots and see for ourselves:


On the X axis we have the percentage of women married to men of the same caste. On the Y axis, we have the absolute value of the imbalance index (in other words, we don’t care which way it is imbalanced, we only want to know how imbalanced the caste dynamics in marriage is in each state). The blue line is the line of best fit. Notice that it slopes downward. In other words, the greater the number of same caste marriages, the smaller is the imbalance between women marrying above and below their own caste, which is interesting. Notice that Punjab sits all alone as an outlier at the bottom left of the above graph! Kerala is an outlier at the top left corner!

Now you might posit that if fewer people are available for inter-caste marriage, the difference between those “marrying up” and those “marrying down” is bound to be lower, since the sum is lower. However, if we normalise the index for each state by the proportion of inter-caste marriages in that state, the above graph will still look pretty much the same!

Caste and marriage are more complicated than we think!

Romantic Comedies in Hollywood and Bollywood

Assumption: The median age for marriage in urban India is much lower than the median age of marriage in urban United States of America

Hence, romantic comedies in hollywood, usually end up having characters who are older than corresponding comedies made by Bollywood. Thus, Hollywood romantic comedies can be made to be more mature than corresponding Bollywood romantic comedies.

Data point: Serendipity was remade as “Milenge Milenge”. I was watching the latter movie a few days back (couldn’t sit through more than five minutes of it, as I kept comparing each scene to the corresponding scene in the original). In Serendipity the protagonists are around 35, and thus show a maturity that corresponds to that age. You can see that in the way they behave, go about things, etc. And here, in Milenge Milenge you have Shahid Kapur and Kareena Kapoor singing and prancing around like Jackasses. You can’t watch too much of that, can you?

Tailpiece: My all time favourite romantic comedy (across languages) remains Ganeshana Maduve, starring Anant Nag and Vinaya Prasad. I’ll talk about the virtues of the movie in another post but I can’t think of any other movie that even comes close to this one. Meanwhile, if you haven’t watched this movie, get hold of a subtitled copy of it and watch it. Now.

On Hating Talisker

I must thank Mohits Senior and Junior for introducing me to the wonderful world of Single Malts in general, and to Talisker in particular. If I remember right, this was at a meeting of a certain secret society in Senior’s house, where Junior had procured the said substance. I remember being floored by it, and thinking I’d never thought liquor could taste so good. And till yesterday I used to think no one can ever hate this drink.

The first time I got down to buying a bottle of it (though I’d had it by the glass a couple of times outside) was in a duty free shop on my way back from my honeymoon last winter. The wife, as I’d expected, took a huge liking for it. In fact, it seemed like she liked it much more than I did. I must also mention here that for a very long time, that bottle of Talisker was the only liquor available at home.

So whenever we would fight (in our early days of marriage it was quite often, I must admit) the wife would want to distract herself and cool off by “lightening” herself. And would gulp down some Talisker straight from the bottle, as I stood aside, aghast. The subject matter of the fight would be  quickly forgotten, with my foremost thought being “what a waste of such fine booze”, and she being distracted by the contents of the said booze.

That first bottle of Talisker didn’t last too long.

So on our way back from Italy and Greece this summer, I bought another bottle of Talisker. And even before I got it billed, I told the wife that it wasn’t for gulping down, and especially not she was angry. I’ll keep a bottle of cheap whisky at home, I said, for her to drink when angry, and the Talisker should be accessed only when we’re looking to savour our drink.

So last night, on the occasion of her birthday, we decided we want to savour some drink, and down came the bottle of Talisker. She had hardly taken a couple of sips, when she handed the glass back to me. “I can’t take this any more”, she said. “Now, every time I drink Talisker, I get reminded of those times when I was angry and we would be fighting. I don’t want this any more’. So finally there exists a person who hates Talisker, for whatever reason!

For the record, I finished the rest of her drink last night.

On Walking out of a play

Last night the wife and I went to watch what we thought was going to be a play at KH Kala Soudha in Hanumanthanagar. It was supposed to be “directed” by RJ Vinayak Joshi and “starring” among others TN Seetharam, Master Hiriyannaiah and others. It turned out to be more like a talk show, where Joshi attempted to ‘interview’ these worthies, and they came up on stage and sat on a bench and put senti. And talked on, and on, and on.

I’m not saying it was a total ripoff. The band that was playing at the side was pretty good, with the singers having quite distinctive voices and the music also being quite nice. There was this little standup piece by this guy called Nagaraj Kote, which was probably the only part of the evening that lived up to the announced title ‘Simple is difficult’. Then, there was this frequent dialogue between Joshi, playing “naanalla” (not me) and this other guy playing “gottilla” (i don’t know). And they invited this really old couple to talk about their 50-year-old marriage, and they turned out to be quite funny!

Actually, despite some 15-20 mins of senti by Seetharam sometime in the middle, everything seemed to be going quite well. It was 9 o’clock and time for the “play” to be over. And then Master Hiriyannaiah came up on stage. And started talking. And talking. And talking. He was supposed to be taking a dig at politicians, and he ended up talking just like one of them. Rambling on and on and on. And on and on and on. The band had by then gone off stage, else they could’ve played LedZep’s Ramble On and salvaged the evening.

So there was this debate between the wife and I about whether it was ethical to walk out. A few minutes after Hiriyannaiah started rambling, I thought the theatrepeople had broken their part of the contract – as long as they were within the time that they advertised, they were good. And we were obliged to hold up our end of the contract. But once they overshot, I felt no need to hold up my end of the contract, and having given them the gate money, and my promised 90 minutes, I was now free to walk out.

Of course, I wasn’t going to do something outrageous – like shouting or screaming or talking on my mobile or anything else that might cause disrespect to the performers. All I wanted to do was to walk out.

The wife, on the other hand, felt it would be insensitive on our part to walk out, and that it too would amount to disrespect, and we ought to stay till the end of the show. Her thinking reminded me of what happens in an interest rate swap when one party goes bankrupt – the counterparty is obliged to continue paying it’s share of the swap, and hold up its end of the contract.

I think there’s merit in both sides of the argument, and I kept debating that as I waited until the end of Hiriyannaiah’s rambles when I really couldn’t take it any more and I walked out. So what do you think of this? Do you think it’s ok for performers to expect perfect behaviour from the audience even after they’ve not held up their end of the contract? Do you think it’s ethical for people to quietly walk out of a play that they’re not enjoying at all, as a means of protest? Don’t you think it helps having this part of the feedback loop?

Comments, please.

Introducing Pinky

So given that the new missus has moved into my life, and my home (and to add some cheese “and my hort”), I think it is quite appropriate that she moves into this blog also. You might have already seen her first post, which she wrote this afternoon. You can expect her to be more prolific in the days going forward. Till then, you can read her old writings here.

This might be a good opportunity to tell the world about how we met. It all started out with this post on my blog (I seriously miss those good old pre-twitter days, when I could peacefully write blog posts that were one line long; keeping with the tradition, the missus refuses to get onto twitter). And then she happened to like this one. Orkut.. GTalk.. Tharkari.. Gandhi Bazaar.. … ………………… Marriage.

Coming back, both of us will be writing here, on the same page. The same feed that you are currently subscribing to will enable you to subscribe to both our writings. The first line of the feed has the name of the author, and in any case I think our writing styles are so different that you should be able to figure out who has written what.