How much social mobility is there in South Asia? The intuitive answer is: very little. South Asia is home to the biggest number of poor in the world and key development outcomes – from child mortality to malnutrition – suggest that poverty is entrenched. Absence of mobility is arguably what defines the caste system, in which occupations are essentially set for individuals at birth. Not surprisingly, the prospects for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to prosper are believed to be gloomier in this part of the world.
And yet, our analysis in Addressing Inequality in South Asia, reveals that economic and occupational mobility has become substantial in the region in recent decades. In fact, it could even be comparable to that of very dynamic societies such as the United States and Vietnam. The analysis also suggests that cities support greater mobility than rural areas, and that wage employment – both formal and informal – is one of its main drivers.
When splitting the population into three groups—poor, vulnerable, and middle class—upward mobility within the same generation was considerable for both the poor and the vulnerable. In both Bangladesh and India, a considerable fraction of households moved above the poverty line between 2005 and 2010. Meanwhile, a sizable proportion of the poor and the vulnerable moved into the middle class. In India, households from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes – considered together – experienced upward mobility comparable to that of the rest of the population.
Country Partnership Strategies are a central element of the World Bank Group’s effort to act in a coordinated way to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. But they can be hard for the average person to navigate—some are three-volume tomes, and others can be dense with technicalities. When we make them inaccessible to the general public, we often forgo a critical opportunity to build broad support for our work.
This year, the Bank Group’s India team decided to take a more innovative approach—one that has the potential to directly engage the public and perhaps even spur others to join us in our cause. In producing the Country Partnership Strategy for India, the team opted not to create a simple PDF for the website. Instead it produced a well-designed book, flush with easy-to-understand graphics and appealing photographs. It also produced a highly interactive web application that visualizes the strategy—and tracks the strategy’s progress towards its goals over time. The tool shows exactly how individual projects along with knowledge and advisory work line up with our twin goals, and what outcomes we expect in each instance.
Watching export growth across South Asia surge in the recent past leads one to ask the obvious but crucial question: Will this trend continue in the longer term and is South Asia on its way to become an export powerhouse, or has it just been a short term, one-off spurt provoked by external forces?
Clearly, the rupee depreciation following tapering talk in May 2013 and the recovery in the US constituted favorable tailwinds; however, our analysis in the fall 2014 edition of the South Asia Economic Focus finds that there are more permanent factors at play as well. South Asia is no exception to the trend across developing countries of increasing importance of exports for economic growth. While starting from a low base, the region saw one of the starkest increases in exports to GDP, pushing from 8.5 percent in 1990 to 23 percent in 2013.