How Gender and Caste Impact Poverty: A Close Look at the Numbers

The study reveals a notable gender gap in poverty, with SC-ST showing the highest disparity, followed by other backward-class societies. Upper-caste communities have the smallest gender difference in poverty, indicating caste influence on this gap.
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Representation image of women fighting for their rightsPinterest

New Delhi- Let's talk about how being a boy or a girl, and the caste you belong to, can affect how much money you have and if you're living in poverty. A recent study has some interesting facts to share. For example, it shows that more girls from upper-caste families face significant poverty compared to boys of their caste. The study also highlights differences in income needed for boys and girls to escape poverty. Similarly, in other backward classes (OBC), more girls are struggling with poverty compared to boys, and this gap is even bigger.

Among children belonging to the SC/ST community, there's a significant difference in the experience of poverty between boys and girls. This difference is measured at 31.0%. When looking specifically at the second generation within the SC/ST group, it was observed that the income gap below the poverty line is smaller for boys compared to their sisters. In other words, in SC/ST families, the economic challenges faced by second-generation boys are not as pronounced as those faced by their sisters in terms of falling below the poverty line.

A recent study by Shishir Roy, Assistant Professor at the Dept. of Economics of Acharya Prafulla Chandra College, has once again proved what was always in discussions.

According to his study titled ‘Gender gap in poverty biased by caste in India: an empirical analysis’ published in the Journal of Social and Economic Development in October 2023, there is a significant difference in poverty between males and females at the national level and within different caste groups for the second generation. Females tend to have lower income than males, and this difference increases when we compare higher and lower caste families. The results show that the gap between the two sexes in poverty aligns with the caste hierarchy.

If put into number, the same study states that 8.2% of males and 20.6% of females from upper-caste families face significant poverty. For males, the income difference to reach the poverty line is 3.9%, and for females, it's 9.4%. This indicates the monthly income needed to bridge the gap between their current income and the poverty line.

In comparison, 13.6% of males and 41.4% of females from other backward classes (OBC) are poor, leading to a 27.8% difference in poverty rates between genders. Second-generation females experience a higher income shortfall from the poverty line compared to their brothers.

The poverty incidence gender gap for SC/ST children is 31.0%. In the SC/ST community, the income gap below the poverty line for second-generation sons is less than that for their sisters.

In societies belonging to scheduled castes/scheduled tribes, there is the highest gender difference in poverty, followed by other backward-class societies. In contrast, upper-caste societies have the lowest gender difference in poverty. This suggests that the gender gap in poverty is influenced by caste.

The reasons for the same can be manyfold. One in particular highlighted by the report states in India, many women work in the informal sector in less developed villages, leading to a significant imbalance in the types of jobs and living conditions. To address this, the migration of female labor from rural to urban areas might help reduce the gender disparity in both the nature of work and living conditions. However, for this to happen, female workers need to improve their education or achieve higher educational qualifications. The migration of female labour could play a crucial role in narrowing the gender gap in poverty.

The Demand for Caste and Socio-Economic Census:

The study highlights not only a need for a fresh socio-economic census but a gendered data as well. But the centre cannot be vaguer. A news report by The Telegraph asserts an RTI application that it had filed in November of the year which had sought information on the status of progress in conducting a fresh Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC). But the rural development ministry, responsible for the 2011-12 Socio-Economic Caste Census, “Fresh SECC has not started after SECC 2011,” On the application’s request for details of the demands for a fresh SECC, as received from each state government and Union Territory, the ministry said: “Not applicable.”

Bihar’s recent caste survey and the subsequent socio-economic data revealed the same story. The data reveals that the highest percentage of impoverished families is found among the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST). In SC communities, which make up 19.65% of the state's total population, 42.93% of families are in poverty. Among the relatively small ST population, accounting for only 1.68% of the state's population, 42.7% are considered poor.

The data further indicates that 33.16% of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) families and 33.58% of Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) families are living in poverty. In terms of population distribution, OBCs constitute 27.13%, while EBCs make up 36.01% of the state's population. Among upper caste families, comprising 15.52% of the population, 25.09% are identified as poor.

Many states such as Karnataka, Rajasthan have also jumped on the socio-economic caste census bandwagon, but nothing is set in stone yet.

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