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Social disadvantage and mental health: A developing country perspective

Research, Social Hierarchy1 min read

Authors: Aashish Gupta, Diane Coffey

Published in: Population Association of America 2018 Annual Meeting

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Studies from the United States document important racial gaps in health. In developing societies, research on social disadvantage and health is more limited. Mental health, in particular, is poorly understood relative to its disease burden.

Our study contributes the first population-level analysis of mental health disparities in India, where the two marginalized groups that we study constitute a population larger than that of the United States.

Applying two complementary empirical strategies to data on 10,125 adults interviewed by the WHO SAGE, we document and decompose gaps in mental health between the dominant social group (higher caste Hindus) and two marginalized social groups (Scheduled Castes and Muslims). We find that differences in socioeconomic status cannot fully explain the large disparities in mental health that we document, for either marginalized group. Our results highlight the need for policies that move beyond redistribution to reduce violence and discrimination.


r.i.c.e. is a non-profit research organization focused on health and well-being in India. Our core focus is on children in rural north India. Our research studies health care at the start of life, sanitation, air pollution, maternal health, social inequality, and other dimensions of population-level social wellbeing.

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