I'm reading lots of stuff these days on social mobility in India to do with my book project on rich-poor interactions at private golf clubs. It's really only in the last ten to fifteen years that much ground has been made on this question of social mobility, and that's because only until recently has there been much in the way of massive surveys yielding multi-generational data. Something I came across a while back but which I'm returning to now is Anirudh Krishna's study of changing--and often not changing--prospects for those living in fourteen Bangalore slums.
Tracking these communities over time, Krishna finds that social mobility for most is a matter of luck, which makes sense: in a society such as India where the investment in education, health care, and other basic social provisions is abysmal, poor people are left to survive on their own. He pays special attention to how illnesses within families can be especially devastating. An important paragraph, near the end, reads:
Illnesses, accidents, hospitalisations, deaths, and marriages are the adverse events that have mattered most within these slums. Compared with households whose economic conditions improved or remained the same, such adverse events occurred more frequently among households whose economic status has deteriorated. Average expenditures on health care were substantially higher among house- holds who suffered reversals of fortune. On average, a slum household spent Rs.13,415 on health care over the 10-year period preceding the survey. But 10-year medical expenses were 65 per cent higher among households who experienced downward movements (Rs.22,180). The incidence of regular medical outlays on account of chronic ailments is also higher among these households. Astonishingly, medical expenses were also higher among the poorest compared to the richest slum households (Rs.17,450 v. Rs.14,770).
Families fortunate enough to avoid major illnesses can get by, investing money in other things, like education, most importantly. Those not so fortunate suffer, and suffer for generations, according to Krishna.
Read the whole thing here.