The socio-economic status of Indian Muslims is, on average, considerably lower than that of upper caste Hindus. Muslims nevertheless exhibit substantially higher child survival rates, and have done for decades. This paper analyses this seeming puzzle. A decomposition of the survival differential confirms that some compositional effects favour Muslims but that, overall, differences in characteristics and especially the Muslim deficit in parental education predict a Muslim disadvantage. The results of this study contribute to a recent literature that debates the importance of socioeconomic status (SES) in determining health and survival. They augment a growing literature on the role of religion or culture as encapsulating important unobservable behaviours or endowments that influence health, indeed, enough to reverse the SES gradient that is commonly observed.
Journal of Health Economics 29(2): 191-204