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.
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.
It was a Friday evening and the auditorium inside St. Xavier’s College in Kathmandu was packed with almost 300 people. Students, activists, experts from the government and civil society gathered inside the hall along with an eclectic panel comprising of a film celebrity, a lawyer activist, an IT entrepreneur and an INGO Head. They were all there to discuss one crucial issue - violence against women and girls.
The statistics are shocking. Nepal ranks 14th among the countries with the highest global prevalence of physical violence by intimate partner, according to a new World Bank report. A staggering 45 percent of Nepali women have reported suffering two or more types of sexual coercion in their lifetime and 20% of the abortions in Nepal each year are carried out by women who prefer a son to a daughter.
Jijodamandu, a small hilltop village in Doti district in Western Nepal is a full day’s walk from the nearest motorable road. Below the village, the hillside is littered by terraced paddy fields producing rice. Surrounding many homes in the village slightly above the terraced paddy fields, there are fruits trees planted sporadically – oranges, lemons and pomegranates. When I was leaving the village after a few days stay, my host handed me a bag of oranges. Not wanting to overreach his hospitality towards me and also knowing food security is a concern for them I initially declined his offer. But he was insistent. “For the walk back down,” he said. “Fruits we have plenty of. It is rice and grains we cannot plant enough.”