The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Caste System

  • Susan Wolcott
Reference work entry


India’s caste system performed two fundamental functions: insurance through transfers between caste members and, in villages, insurance through protected job assignments across castes. In most of India the landlord had a social responsibility to maintain his lower caste workers in lean periods. This division of labour has been viewed as coercive and exploitative. Yet many groups changed their caste occupation, both upward and downward in ritual ranking. During industrialization, traditional occupational categories did not restrict occupational choices in new industries, but caste continued to play a role in recruitment and support during work stoppages.


Akerlof, G Caste system Division of labour India Industrialization Insurance 

JEL Classification

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan Wolcott
    • 1
  1. 1.