research and policy advocacy for health & wellbeing in India.

Sanitation

Exploring the causes and consequences of widespread open defecation in India

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Sanitation

Social Inequality

Understanding how social discrimination impacts child and maternal health in rural India

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Social Inequality

Maternal Health

Exploring challenges and policy responses to adequate nutrition in motherhood to improve child health

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Maternal Health

Environment

Understanding the health consequences of climate change and air pollution, and exploring policy responses.

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Environment

Nobel laureate Bill Nordhaus’ ideas for India

William Nordhaus has won a share of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics for his contribution to climate economics. In this post from Ideas for India, Dean Spears discusses Nordhaus’ work and its implications for India. He contends that India is even more climate-vulnerable than realised by the Nobel laureate’s quantitative model that describes the interplay between the economy and climate.

Climate change may be the greatest externality that human economies have ever suffered. When I take an Uber from CR Park to the Indian Statistical Institute in Delhi, the exhaust fills the air we all share. When the coal plant in Kanpur generates energy to electrify villages in the state of Uttar Pradesh, the smoke diffuses for miles. Power plants and airplane flights in the US decades ago are already warming the atmosphere into which Indian children are born today. And all of us who are rich enough to be reading a blog are participating in emissions that will change lives for future generations.

That sounds like a daunting problem for economists. But, in fact, the solution is simple enough to be included in every introductory microeconomics class. The optimal response to an externality is to internalise it: make sure decision-makers have to pay the social marginal cost.

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Social Attitudes Research, India (SARI) data is available!

Starting in 2016, we began Social Attitudes Research, India (SARI), a mobile phone survey collecting data from representative samples of adults in various states across India on people’s attitudes towards social issues such as reservations, intercaste and interreligious marriage, women working outside of the home, untouchability, ghunghat, and much more.  SARI also asked about prejudice towards marginalized communities like Dalits and Muslims, and asked Dalits and Muslims about their experiences of discrimination.

Countries all over the world track social attitudes through periodic, representative surveys to understand societal values and how they are changing over time.  India’s diversity and strict hierarchical norms often collide in inhibiting India’s human development.  We have written articles news pieces in the past months with SARI data (see a partial list here).  We hope that others will use the data to write more widely, and contribute to important policy conversations.

SARI data from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Mumbai, and Rajasthan are now publicly available on our website (here), along with detailed documentation (here).  Please take a look!

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Paper on child height published in EPW

Please check out the Research page to read Dean and my new paper on child height using the NFHS-4 data.  It was just published in the journal Economic & Political Weekly on August 4th.  We discuss the improvements in child height in the last 10 years, compare changes in India to other countries, and try to understand how the factors that influence child height have changed.

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Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen releases a commendable ad to promote twin pit latrines!

The Swacch Bharat Mission Grameen recently launched an advertisement campaign video with Hindi movie stars Bhumi Pednekar and Akshay Kumar. In the video the actors educate viewers about how twin pit latrines work. The ad also teaches viewers how the decomposed feces can be used for greater farming benefits and prosperity.
An important feature of the ad which distinctly stands out is that Akshay Kumar touches the decomposed feces with his own hands. We know from years of field research that misplaced beliefs and untouchability-related barriers around handling of feces is one important reason why such a high fraction of the Indian population still defecates in the open. The message of this advertisement is therefore really important, and its makers should be commended.

For the readers who don’t understand Hindi, here is a translation of the dialogues from the video.
Mishra [M]: [In an astonished tone] So many varieties of flowers and fruits…this is incredible!
Akshay Kumar [AK]: It’s all because of the latrine Mishra.
M: [surprised and with a disgusted look on his face] LATRINE?
Bhumi Pednekar [BP]: [disapproving of Mishra’s tone and disgusted face] Yes, the latrine..and that also with two pits.

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Hunger and health: Royal Economic Society video highlights prize-winning r.i.c.e. research

In last few decades, India has seen a declining household per capita average calorie consumption. This throws a puzzle, as over the same time people in India have gotten richer. Dean and Josephine investigate how India’s improving disease environment can explain part of the calorie decline.
Their research matches data on infant mortality rates (IMR) and open defecation with survey data on per capita calorie consumption. They find that between 1988 and 2004-05, districts that had a larger decline in IMR saw a larger decline in household per capita calorie consumption. Also, those households that live in villages where more of their neighbours defecate in open are also the ones that eat more calories on average.
An implication of this research is that as more households use toilets, then the food that government provides to them can be used more efficiently and there could even be cost savings. Not only will children be healthier and more likely to survive, they will also have better nutritional outcomes. Additionally, the money that the government spends on food subsidies can also be put to better use. Access this article here 

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Dean talks to the Institute of Development Studies on what motivated ‘Where India Goes?’

In this short interview, Dean talks to the IDS about what motivated him and Diane to write their book “Where India Goes: Abandoned toilets, stunted development, and the cost of caste.” While the book addresses the puzzle of widespread open defecation in rural India, originally, they were interested in a different puzzle- the puzzle concerning child health and well-being in India.  The statistical data, for example, revealed that India had a higher neonatal mortality and shorter children compared to many other developing countries with lower per capita incomes. In their effort to learn about child health they stumbled at the puzzle of open defecation in rural India.

There is a number of things that make situation tough for children in India. The lower status of women, for instance, means that young mothers do not eat a lot which shows in the health of their babies. Another important reason for this is sanitation and disease environment. India is a place with a very high density of population on one hand and a lot of open defecation on the other hand. Together, they create an environment, especially in rural parts of the northern states,

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