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Sociology, Social Policy and CriminologyPart of Economic, Social and Political Science

Are men in India healthier than women?

Published: 14 May 2008

New perspectives on the caste system and gender inequality.

Dr Aravinda Guntupalli currently works as a research fellow on the project “Health and morbidity of friendly society members in the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries”. Its aim is to study the relationship between individual sickness histories and longevity, using the Hampshire Friendly Society and similar friendly societies. This project is designed by Dr Martin Gorsky (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), Professor Bernard Harris and Dr Andrew Hinde (University of Southampton).

Her research interests are also motivated by welfare issues in low-income economies and her recent work is concerned with gender-differentials in well-being, nutritional transition, child nutrition and reproductive health. Recent publications include: The development and inequality of heights in North, West, and East India 1915-1944: Explorations in Economic History (2006), and The Causes, Consequences and Perceptions of Chenchu Tribe on Infertility: Journal of Infant and Reproductive Psychology (2004). Her research on Indian caste and gender inequality was recently highlighted in the Telegraph India newspaper.

Much work is focused on the use of Indian anthropometric data to assess individual well-being. Using mean heights and coefficients of variation in height – of various groups – defined by region, caste and religion - welfare and inequality have been investigated. She argued that welfare improved very little in the first half of the 20th century and, in the second half, a very modest improvement took place. Furthermore, inequality of people’s heights existed in India and remain today both between genders and castes.

Gender inequality in India is worse compared to other parts of the world considering the role of cultural factors such as a preference for male children.. Before independence lower castes in India did not have access to food and health care and that was reflected in their short stature. In the same way, gender dimorphism operates through differential access to health care and food. She suggested that Indian boys, in general, received better food and health care compared to the girls. In fact, she argues that, female discrimination is worse compared to caste discrimination as bias in intra-household allocation of resources is starker than discriminating “unfamiliar” people. Overall she added new ideas and insights to the area of welfare and inequality of Indians from 1900 to 2000.

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