University of Maryland

Social Networks in India:
Caste, Tribe, and Religious Variations

Reeve Vanneman, James Noon, Mitali Sen, Sonalde Desai, and Abusaleh Shariff


Using original data from a newly collected nationwide survey for 40,000 households in India, we examine variation in social capital in India across caste, tribe, and religion. Our primary measure uses a positional generator of social networks, counting how many ties the household has to persons in medical, educational, and governmental institutions. We find the expected hierarchy of Brahmins, high caste Hindus, other backward castes (OBCs), dalits, and tribals (adivasis) in access to these networks. Muslims score relatively low while other minority religions appear similar to high caste Hindus. We also assess the degree to which these group differences are explained by their socio-economic positions. After controls for wealth, education, and other household characteristics, the advantages of Brahmins and the disadvantages of adivasis and Muslims remain substantial. However, the weak networks of OBCs and dalits are a consequence of their relative poverty and low education; compared to equivalent high caste Hindus, OBCs and dalits have nearly as good network access to these important institutions. In urban areas, dalits and adivasis do especially well, an effect we attribute to India's strong affirmative action policies.

Prepared for the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, Los Angeles, March 30-April 1, 2006

Draft paper (pdf 74K).

Last updated October 1, 2006
comments to: Reeve Vanneman.