Blurred Lines: Intermarriage and the Weakening Caste Cleavage in Urban India
While most scholars agree that ethnic identity is socially constructed and malleable, in India caste identities and cleavages are thought to be fairly stable, with endogamy, or within-caste marriage being central to this stability. Through a field experiment in the urban arranged-marriage market involving 1070 women participants, we compare revealed preferences for intercaste marriage among Scheduled castes and Upper Castes, two groups situated at the opposite ends of the hierarchical social order. We find that 70.7% of Scheduled Castes, and only 53.9% of Upper Castes, express an interest in identity-change through intermarriage. Further, among Upper Castes, socioeconomic status is inversely related to identity-change preference, while among Scheduled Castes the opposite is true. Our findings suggest that exchange is central to arranged-marriage markets in urban India. Participants who can benefit from intercaste marriage and have high caste or socioeconomic status to exchange are more likely to express an interest in intercaste marriage. Willingness to intermarry points to altered caste relations and undermines the basis of the caste cleavage in urban politics.