, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 245–270 | Cite as

Changing educational inequalities in india in the context of affirmative action

  • Sonalde Desai
  • Veena Kulkarni


Indian society suffers from substantial inequalities in education, employment, and income based on caste and ethnicity. Compensatory or positive discrimination policies reserve 15% of the seats in institutions of higher education and state and central government jobs for people of the lowest caste, the Scheduled Caste; 7.5% of the seats are reserved for the Scheduled Tribe. These programs have been strengthened by improved enforcement and increased funding in the 1990s. This positive discrimination has also generated popular backlash and on-the-ground sabotage of the programs. This paper examines the changes in educational attainment between various social groups for a period of nearly 20 years to see whether educational inequalities have declined over time. We use data from a large national sample survey of over 100,000 households for each of the four survey years—1983, 1987–1988, 1993–1994, and 1999–2000-andfocus on the educational attainment of children and young adults aged 6–29. Our results show a declining gap between dalits, adivasis, and others in the odds of completing primary school. Such improvement is not seen for Muslims, a minority group that does not benefit from affirmative action. We find little improvement in inequality at the college level. Further, we do not find evidence that upper-income groups, the so-called creamy layer of dalits and adivasis, disproportionately benefit from the affirmative action programs at the expense of their lower-income counterparts.


Affirmative Action Educational Inequality Educational Transition Schedule Caste Educational Expansion 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Anitha, B.K. 2000. Village, Caste and Education. Delhi: Rawat Publication.Google Scholar
  2. Bayly, S. 1999. Caste, Society and Politics in India From the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age. New Cambridge History of India, Part 4, Vol. 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beteille, A. 1969. Castes: Old and New, Essays in Social Structure and Social Stratification. Bombay: Asia Publishing House.Google Scholar
  4. Boston, T. and U. Nair-Reichert. 2003. “Affirmative Action: Perspectives From the United States, India and Brazil.” The Western Journal of Black Studies 27(1):3–14.Google Scholar
  5. Bourdieu, P. 1973. “Cultural Reproduction and Social Reproduction.” Knowledge, Education and Cultural Change: Papers in the Sociology of Education, edited by R. Brown. London: Tavistock Publications.Google Scholar
  6. Bowles, S. and H. Gintis. 1976. Schooling in Capitalist America: Educational Reforms and Contradictions of American Life. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  7. Collins, R. 1979. The Credential Society: an Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  8. Desai, S., C.D. Adams, and A. Dubey. 2006. “In the Margins: Social Inequalities in Children’s Educational Outcomes in India.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, March 30–April 1, Los Angeles.Google Scholar
  9. Dirks, N. 2001. Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Dreze, J. and A. Sen. 1995. India: Economic Development and Social Opportunity. Delhi: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Engineer, A.A. 2001. Muslim Middle Class and It’s Role. Mumbai, India: Center for Study of Society and Secularism.Google Scholar
  12. Frankel, F., Z. Hasan, R. Bhargava, and B. Arora, eds. 2000. Transforming India: Social and Political Dynamics of Democracy. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Galanter, M. 1997. “Pursuing Equality: An Assessment of India’s Policy of Compensatory Discrimination for Disadvantaged Groups.” Pp. 187–99 in Politics in India, edited by S. Kaviraj. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Government of India. 2006. Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community in India. New Delhi: Government of India.Google Scholar
  15. Grosh, M. and P. Glewwe. Editors. 2000. Designing Household Survey Questionnaires for Developing Countries: Lessons From 15 Years of the Living Standards Measurement Study. Washington, DC: The World Bank.Google Scholar
  16. Gupta, D., ed. 1991. Social Stratification. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. — 2005. “Caste and Politics: Identity Over System.” Annual Review of Anthropology 21: 409–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Halsey, A.H., A. Heath, and J.M. Ridge. 1980. Origins and Destinations. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  19. Hannum, E. 2002. “Educational Stratification by Ethnicity in China: Enrollment and Achievement in the Early Reform Years.” Demography 39:95–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hasan, M. 2001. Legacy of a Divided Nation: India’s Muslims Since Independence. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Hauser, R.M. and D.L. Featherman. 1976. “Equality of Schooling: Trends and Prospects.” Sociology of Education 49:99–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Indiastat. 2006. Group-wise Number of Employees and Representation of Scheduled Castes and Tribes in Public Sector Employment in India, 1999. Available online at http://www.indiastat .com/Google Scholar
  23. Kothari, R., ed. 1970. Caste in Indian Politics. New York: Gordon and Beach, Science Publishers.Google Scholar
  24. Kulkarni, P.M. 2002. Interstate Variations in Human Development Differentials Among Social Groups in India. Working Paper No. 80. National Council for Applied Economic Research, New Delhi.Google Scholar
  25. Mare, R.D. 1980. “Social Background and School Continuation Decisions.” Journal of the American Statistical Association 75:295–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. — 1981. “Change and Stability in Educational Stratification.” American Sociological Review 46:72–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mendelsohn, O. and M. Vicziany. 1998. The Untouchables: Subordination, Poverty and the State in Modern India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Meyer, J.W., F.O. Ramirez, and Y.N. Soysal. 1992. “World Expansion of Mass Education, 1870–1980.” Sociology of Education 65:128–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nambissan, G.B. and M. Sedwal. 2002. “Education for All: The Situation of Dalit Children in India.” Pp. 72–86 in India Education Report, edited by R. Govinda. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Pong, S.-L. 1993. “Preferential Policies and Secondary School Attainment in Peninsular Malaysia.” Sociology of Education 66:245–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. The Probe Team. 1999. Public Report on Basic Education in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Raftery, A.E. and M. Hout. 1993. “Maximally Maintained Inequality: Expansion, Reform, and Opportunity in Irish Education, 1921–75.” Sociology of Education 66:41–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Shah, G., H. Mander, S. Thorat, S. Deshpande, and A. Baviskar. 2006. Untouchability in Rural India. New Delhi: Sage.Google Scholar
  34. Sharma, K.L., ed. 1999. Social Inequality in India: Profiles of Caste, Class and Social Mobility. Jaipur: Rawat Publications.Google Scholar
  35. Shavit, Y. and H.-P. Blossfeld, eds. 1993. Changing Educational Attainment in Thirteen Countries. Boulder: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  36. Sowell, T. 2004. Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Sujatha, K. 2002. “Education Among Scheduled Tribes.” India Education Report, edited by R. Govinda, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Thorat, S., Aryama, and P. Negi. 2005. Reservation and Private Sector: Quest for Equal Opportunity and Growth. Jaipur: Rawat.Google Scholar
  39. Tienda, M., K.T. Leicht, and K.M. Lloyd. 2002. “Before and After Hopwood: The Elimination of Affirmative Action and Minority Student Enrollment in Texas.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, May 9–11, Atlanta.Google Scholar
  40. Treiman, D.T., H.G.B. Ganzeboom, and S. Rijken. 2003. “Educational Expansion and Educational Achievement in Comparative Perspective.” California Center for Population Research Working Paper CCPR-007-03. University of California, Los Angeles.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sonalde Desai
    • 1
  • Veena Kulkarni
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of MarylandCollege Park
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of MarylandUSA

Personalised recommendations