Residential segregation: The impact of India’s hidden divide

Residential segregation in India
Residential segregation in India has far-reaching consequences, hindering access to opportunities and educational outcomes for marginalised communities.

Residential segregation in India: The availability of high-resolution data has been a game-changer in studying economic opportunity. This data granularity enables researchers understand the impact of factors at a neighborhood level, rather than relying on broader, less detailed information. As a result, the research at Development Data Lab generates valuable open data that can be utilised by researchers, policymakers, and the private sector alike.

A study by DDL, conducted by Sam Asher, Kritarth Jha, Paul Novosad, Anjali Adukia, and Brandon Tank, addressed the issue of residential segregation and its influence on access to opportunities in India. The authors constructed a new dataset encompassing approximately one and a half million neighborhoods across rural and urban India.

The study titled Residential Segregation and Unequal Access to Local Public Services in India defines and analyses the extent of residential segregation across various neighborhoods in India. It goes on to investigate how public services differs across neighborhoods and how this relates to economic outcomes. It also explores the impact of residential segregation on educational outcomes for young individuals in these neighborhoods.

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Residential segregation in India

Residential segregation is a significant issue in India, particularly for minority communities such as Muslims and Scheduled Castes. Recent surveys and studies by Pew highlight the reluctance of people to have neighbors from different religious backgrounds and indicate opposition to religious intermarriage. Our earlier work on economic mobility demonstrated pronounced disparities in different caste groups over time, with Muslims facing the most significant challenges.

The effects of segregation are multifaceted and complex. On the one hand, living in segregated neighborhoods may limit access to opportunities, networking, jobs, and education. On the other, some individuals prefer to reside with their social groups for safety and comfort. Consequently, it is crucial to explore the consequences of residential segregation.

Comparing segregation in India and the US

While the United States has extensively studied residential segregation, India has had fewer studies due to limited data access at the neighborhood level. In the US, researchers have investigated the causes and effects of segregation, such as white flight, migration patterns, and legal mechanisms like redlining and racial covenants. The findings in the US have demonstrated adverse effects on marginalised groups in terms of mobility, health, education, and labour market outcomes.

The study reveals that residential segregation in India is widespread, and there are pockets of high segregation throughout the country. The distribution of minority groups, such as Muslims and SCs, shows a bimodal pattern, with some living in areas with a lower share of their group and others residing in neighborhoods with a higher concentration.

Impact on public service delivery

When examining the relationship between segregation and public service delivery, the study finds striking disparities at the neighborhood level. Muslim neighborhoods experience a significant decline in access to secondary schools, with a share of 100% Muslim residents leading to a sharp reduction in the probability of having a secondary school in the neighborhood. While the effects on SC neighborhoods are weaker, there is still substantial impact at the local level.

The research on educational outcomes for young individuals in segregated neighborhoods highlights the pronounced impact of residential segregation. Both SC and Muslim neighborhoods show a substantial penalty in education compared to non-segregated neighborhoods. These disparities persist even after accounting for individual and family characteristics, suggesting a strong influence of neighborhood composition.

The study highlights the prevalence of residential segregation in India and its profound implications for access to opportunities and educational outcomes. While the research has been descriptive, and causation requires further investigation, the evidence presented here raises crucial questions for policymakers and researchers alike.

Urbanisation in lower-income countries promise improved well-being for citizens. The study finds that public services and infrastructure systematically favour neighborhoods with fewer Muslims and SCs, perpetuating regressive allocation practices at the most informal government levels. This unequal distribution of services remains hidden in aggregated data typically used to study service disparities. The study finds that children and young adults growing up in marginalised neighborhoods face reduced access to education, even after accounting for parent education and household consumption.

The research underscores the critical importance of addressing unequal access to public services in highly segregated Indian neighborhoods, as this could be a significant factor contributing to the disadvantages faced by marginalised groups. Taking action to dismantle residential segregation is vital to fostering inclusive growth and equitable opportunities for all.

(This article is the edited excerpt of a presentation made by Kritarth Jha, Research Analyst at Development Data Lab, at an event organised by EGROW Foundation. This has been edited using AI tools.)