Got Water? Social Divisions and Access to Public Goods in Rural India


Divya Balasubramaniam

University of Georgia


Santanu Chatterjee

University of Georgia


David B. Mustard

University of Georgia


March 2009




We examine whether different aspects of social divisions help explain the wide variation in access to tap water across rural India. Using data for 436 rural districts from the 2001 Census of India, we find that communities that are heterogeneous in terms of caste (within the majority Hindu religion) are likely to have lower access to tap water than correspondingly homogeneous communities. By contrast, communities that are fragmented across religions are likely to have higher access to tap water than correspondingly homogeneous communities. Therefore, though both heterogeneity within and across religions matter for access to public goods, they may work in opposite directions. The source of tap water is also important in understanding the role of social factors: while caste-based fragmentation matters for tap water access within the residence, it is the concentration of individual caste groups that matter for tap water outside the residence. These results indicate that studies that use aggregate measures of social fragmentation may not convey useful information regarding the design of public policy.



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