The Review of Black Political Economy

, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 149–164 | Cite as

Socioeconomic Status, Religion and Health in India: an Examination of Chronic and Communicable Diseases



The literature on socioeconomic status and health suggests that those in higher positions have better health, and those in lower positions have worse health. There is little evidence of an SES gradient in non-industrialized countries, however, and it is uncertain whether the health gradient established in many Western countries would apply in developing countries. In this study, the authors examine patterns in health outcomes by caste and religion in India, a developing country. Results from a nationally representative sample, the Indian Human Development Survey, suggest that while high SES social groups report less communicable disease, they report a higher prevalence of chronic diseases than low SES groups. This study demonstrates the need to examine diseases of affluence among high SES groups in developing countries while also identifying the particular health concerns that are prevalent among low SES groups.


India Healthcare Caste Hindu Health gradient Chronic diseases 


  1. Abegunde DO, Mathers CD, Adam T, Ortegon M, Strong K. The burden and costs of chronic diseases in low-income and middle-income countries. Lancet. 2007;370(9603):1929–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Acharya S. Caste and patterns of discrimination in rural public health care services. In: Thorat S, Neuman KS, editors. Blocked by Caste. New Delhi: Oxford University Press; 2010.Google Scholar
  3. Anjana RM, Ali MK, Pradeepa R, Deepa M, Datta M, Unnikrishnan R, Rema M, Mohan V. The need for obtaining accurate nationwide estimates of diabetes prevalence in India - rationale for a national study on diabetes. Indian J Med Res. 2011;133(4):369–80.Google Scholar
  4. Blane D. The life-course, the social gradient, and health. In: Wilkinson RG, Marmot M, editors. Social determinants of health. New York: Oxford University Press; 2006. p. 54–77.Google Scholar
  5. Borooah VK. Inequality in health outcomes in India: the role of caste and religion. In: Thorat S, Newman KS, editors. Blocked by Caste: economic discrimination in modern India. New Delhi: Oxford; 2010. p. 179–207.Google Scholar
  6. Borooah VK. Social identity and educational attainment: the role of caste and religion in explaining differences between children in India. J Dev Stud. 2012;48(7):887–903.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Desai S, Kulkarni V. Changing educational inequalities in India in the context of affirmative action. Demography. 2008;45(2):245–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Deshpande A. Caste at birth?: Redefining disparity in India. Rev Dev Econ. 2001;5(1):130–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Deshpande A. Asset versus autonomy? The changing face of the gender-caste overlap in India. Fem Econ. 2002;8(2):19–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Ezzati M, van der Hoorn S, Lawes CMM, Leach R, James WPT, Lopez AD, Rodgers A, Murray CJL. Rethinking the “diseases of affluence” paradigm: global patterns of nutritional risks in relation to economic development. PLoS Med. 2005;2(5):e133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. George LK, Ellison CG, Larson DB. Explaining the relationships between religious involvement and health. Psychol Inq. 2002;13(3):190–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kaplan GA, Keil JE. Socioeconomic factors and cardiovascular disease: a review of the literature. Circulation. 1993;88(4 Pt 1):1973–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Koenig H, King D, Carson VB. Handbook of religion and health. New York: Oxford University Press; 2012.Google Scholar
  14. Kusuma YS, Babu BV, Naidu JM. Prevalence of hypertension in some cross-cultural populations of visakhapatnam district, South India. Ethn Dis. 2004;14(2):250–9.Google Scholar
  15. Link BG, Phelan J. Social conditions as fundamental causes of disease. J Health Soc Behav. 1995;35:80–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lynch J, Kaplan GA. Socioeconomic position. In: Berkman LF, Kawachi I, editors. Social epidemiology. New York: Oxford University Press; 2000. p. 13–35.Google Scholar
  17. Marmot MG, Stansfeld S, Patel C, North F, Head J, White I, Brunner E, Amanda F, Marmot MG, Davey Smith G. Health inequalities among British civil servants: the whitehall II study. Lancet. 1991;337(8754):1387–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Omran AR. The epidemiological transition: a theory of the epidemiology of population change. Bull World Health Organ. 2001;79(2):161.Google Scholar
  19. Peltzer K, Nzewi E, Mohan K. Attitudes towards HIV-antibody testing and people with AIDS among university students in India, South Africa and United States. Indian J Med Sci. 2004;58(3):95.Google Scholar
  20. Power C, Atherton K, Strachan DP, Shepherd P, Fuller E, Davis A, Gibb I, Kumari M, Lowe G, Macfarlane GJ. Life-course influences on health in British adults: effects of socio-economic position in childhood and adulthood. Int J Epidemiol. 2007;36(3):532–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Rahman MH, Singh A. Socio-economic inequalities in the risk of diseases and associated risk factors in India. J Public Health Epidemiol. 2011;3(11):520–8.Google Scholar
  22. Ravishankar AK. Double burden of malnutrition: Indian regional perspective. Indian J Public Health Res Dev. 2013;4(2):1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Reddy KKR, Rao AP, Reddy TPK. Socioeconomic status and the prevalence of coronary heart disease risk factors. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2002;11(2):98–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Shah G, Mander H, Thorat S, Deshpande S, Baviskar A. Untouchability in rural India. New Delhi: Sage Publications India; 2006.Google Scholar
  25. Singh-Manoux A, Ferrie JE, Chandola T, Marmot M. Socioeconomic trajectories across the life course and health outcomes in midlife: evidence for the accumulation hypothesis? Int J Epidemiol. 2004;33(5):1072–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Smith GD, Bartley M, Blane D. The black report on socioeconomic inequalities in health 10 years on. BMJ Br Med J. 1990;301(6748):373–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Subramanian SV, Po JYT. Mortality burden and socioeconomic status in India. PLoS One. 2011;6(2):e16844.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Thorat A. Ethnicity, caste, and religion: implications for poverty outcomes. Econ Polit Wkly. 2010;45(51):47–53.Google Scholar
  29. Thorat S, Neuman KS. Blocked by caste: economic discrimination in modern India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press; 2012.Google Scholar
  30. Vanneman R, Noon J, Sen M, Desai S, Shariff A. Social networks in India: caste, tribe, and religious variations. In: India human development survey working paper no 3. College Park: University of Maryland; 2006.Google Scholar
  31. Yach D, Corinna H, Linn Gould C, Hofman KJ. The global burden of chronic diseases: overcoming impediments to prevention and control. JAMA J Am Med Assoc. 2004;291(21):2616–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Yusuf S, Reddy S, Ôunpuu S, Anand S. Global burden of cardiovascular diseases part I: general considerations, the epidemiologic transition, risk factors, and impact of urbanization. Circulation. 2001;104(22):2746–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Duke UniversityDurhamUSA

Personalised recommendations