While intergenerational educational mobility of father-son pairs in India has been documented to some extent, there is negligible analysis on how daughters compare to their mothers in terms of educational attainment. This article finds that there is substantial intergenerational educational mobility among women in India; however, about one-fifth of it is downward. Also, upward mobility varies significantly between lower and upper castes.
A key reason for the deplorable condition (in terms of education, heath, occupation, agency, etc.) of women in India has been the rampant gender-based discrimination, which dates back to at least about 3,000 years. For instance, this is reflected in the following hymn from “Atharva Veda” (ancient text from the Indian Vedic system) from circa 800 B.C.E.:
“May he (Prajapati [GOD]) elsewhere afford the birth of a female, but here he shall bestow a man!”
- Atharva Veda, Book VII, verse 11 (translation by Bloomfield 1897).
Moving about 2,760 years forward, the National Committee on Women’s Education (NCWE) (1959) found that the scenario of education among women was extremely worrisome with no formal instruction, except the negligible amount of domestic instruction offered to the daughters of social elites. That said, the scholarship on children’s educational attainment relates children’s education (especially, female children) to mothers’ educational attainment and bargaining power, which is often measured in terms of educational attainment itself. Clearly, if women in a society start with lower educational endowment, it is quite likely that this lower educational endowment will pass on over the generations resulting in the women being caught in a ‘low educational endowment trap’.
The pertinent question here is: why should we worry about women’s education at all? Besides the normative point of view that there should not be any systematic differences in the educational attainment between men and women, studies have shown that the welfare (demographic, economic) of households in general and children in particular depends on women’s (mothers’) educational attainment (Singh, Gaurav, and Das 2013).
In a recent study, I, along with Akanksha Choudhary, examine intergenerational educational mobility among women (mother-daughter pairs) in India (Choudhary and Singh 2017). We analyse data from the “Youth in India: Situation and Needs (2006-07)” survey conducted by the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai and the Population Council, New Delhi. Our sample comprises of 22,296 young women (15 to 24 years age group) from the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu; these states together represent about 39% of the country’s population and were purposively selected to represent the four geographic regions (North, East, South, and West) of India (IIPS and Population Council, 2010).
We used data from the “Youth in India: Situation and Needs (2007)” survey conducted by the IIPS, Mumbai and the Population Council, New Delhi. We look at two measures: the first is a transition matrix, which gives the percentage of women who belong to the various educational categories corresponding to their mother’s educational category; and the second is a summary mobility measure (commonly referred to as M1), which gives the probability that a daughter (or the expected proportion of daughters) will leave the mother’s educational category.
The education of women has been captured using the following categorisation: no formal schooling; 1-4 years of schooling (schooling less than primary); 5-7 years of schooling (completed primary but less than middle school); 8-9 years of schooling (completed middle school but less than secondary); 10-11 years of schooling (completed secondary but less than higher secondary); 12 and above years of schooling (higher secondary and above).
Intergenerational educational mobility among women
All-India level (six states together)
We find that – first, about 41% of the daughters of mothers with no formal schooling end up with no formal schooling; second, only 3.7% of the daughters born to mothers with no formal schooling end up acquiring schooling of 12 or more years; third, approximately 76.2% of the daughters of mothers with 12 or more years of schooling end up receiving 12 or more years of schooling; and finally, surprisingly, nearly 1.7% and 2.7% of the daughters born to mothers with 12 or more years of schooling and 10–11 years of schooling, respectively, end up with no formal schooling.
The mobility measure, M1, which varies between “0” (no mobility at all) and “1” (perfect mobility) shows that the overall mobility at the all-India level is about 0.69 (that is, about 69% of the women end up in an educational category different from their mothers). Approximately, 80% of this overall mobility is upwards. Also, the downward mobility in rural areas is substantially higher compared to urban areas, which is worrisome. An important point worth noting is that about 32% and 22% of the overall mobility among the SC/STs (Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes) and OBCs (Other Backward Classes), respectively, is downward mobility, respectively, which is only 15% in the case of “Other (General or Upper) Castes”.
The main results from the state-level analyses are: first, about 69.4%, 56.2%, and 52.1% of the daughters of mothers having no formal schooling in Bihar, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan, respectively, end up with no formal schooling. On the other hand, only 29.9%, 16.9%, and 10.4% of the daughters of mothers having no formal schooling in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu, respectively, end up with no formal schooling. Second, only 0.6%, 1.27%, and 1.84% of the daughters of mothers having no formal schooling in Bihar, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan, respectively, end up with 12 or more years of formal schooling; the corresponding figures are 4.9%, 5.6%, and 10% in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu, respectively. Third, nearly 74.2%, 62.7%, and 71.6% of daughters of mothers having 12 or more years of formal schooling in Bihar, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan, respectively, end up with 12 or more years of formal schooling; whereas, nearly 77.7%, 80.2%, and 74.3% of daughters of mothers having 12 or more years of formal schooling in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu, respectively, end up with 12 or more years of formal schooling. Finally, approximately 0%, 18.9%, and 3.5% of daughters of mothers having 12 or more years of formal schooling in Bihar, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan, respectively, end up with no formal schooling; whereas, approximately 1.9%, 1.7%, and 0% of daughters of mothers having 12 or more years of formal schooling in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu, respectively, end up with no formal schooling. In summary, the condition of the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan is much worse than that of the demographically, economically, and socially advanced states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu.
Results based on summary measure M1 indicate that the overall mobility in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu is much higher than that of Bihar, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan. Also, downward mobility in Bihar (40% of total), Jharkhand (35%), and Rajasthan (20%) is substantially higher than that of Maharashtra (15%), and Tamil Nadu (16%).
Final remarks and some reflections
At the all-India level, the overall intergenerational educational mobility is generally high. However, nearly 20% of the overall mobility is downward which needs some explanation. There could be multiple reasons: first, a large portion of the downward mobility is contributed by SC/ST and OBC females. SC/ST and OBC children suffer from discrimination and are disadvantaged compared to other-caste children, with the effect stronger for females (Drèze and Kingdon 2001). Also, access to education has been unsatisfactory for SC/ST and OBC children. This might result in the large proportion of SC/ST and OBC females receiving lesser education than their mothers. Second, many of the women covered in the study have seen their mothers working as housewives although they have some years of education, which leads to the formation of a belief system where a female feels that even if she attains a certain level of education, she is finally going to end up being a housewife. Third, a strange phenomenon which has been observed across many countries (especially in Europe) is that the likelihood of downward mobility in the recent past has increased (reasons still unknown) for the young cohorts (Thijssen and Wolbers 2016). Finally, something can also be traced to the reorganisation of Indian families from joint to nuclear families where daughters of working mothers feel that they did not have somebody from the family to sufficiently care for them during their childhoods; hence, they decide they will not work outside the household and therefore, choose not to study too much.
As there are large inter-caste variations in upward mobility, it requires some reflections.
Last but not the least, there are large inter-state variations in intergenerational educational mobility among women in India with the overall mobility as well as its upward component being much lower in the economically and demographically backward states of Bihar, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan. India suffers from substantial inter-state variation in educational attainment (especially of women) with the states of South (such as Tamil Nadu) and West (Maharashtra) being in much better position than Bihar, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan. The problem of gender bias is also more severe in Bihar, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan. Lower educational attainment coupled with higher gender discrimination in the backward states might be the reason behind their substantially lesser upward intergenerational educational mobility.
- Bloomfield, M (1897), Sacred books of the East, Vol. 42, Oxford University Press.
- Choudhary, Akanksha and Ashish Singh (2017), “Are Daughters Like Mothers: Evidence on Intergenerational Educational Mobility Among Young Females in India”, Social Indicators Research, 133(2): 601–621.
- Drèze, Jean and Geeta Kingdon (2001), “School Participation in Rural India”, Review of Development Economics,5(1): 1–24.
- International Institute for Population Sciences and Population Council (2010), ‘Youth in India: Situation and Needs 2006–2007’, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India, New Delhi.
- Singh, Ashish, Sarthak Gaurav, and Upasak Das (2013), “Household Headship and Academic Skills of Indian Children: A Special Focus on Gender Disparities”, European Journal of Population, 29(4): 445-466.
- Thijssen, Lex and Maarten Wolbers (2016), “Determinants of Intergenerational Downward Mobility in the Netherlands”, Social Indicators Research,128(3): 995–1010.