William M. Alexander
Emeritus Professor of World Food Politics
California Polytechnic State University
Kerala contains the only large population on Earth which has already achieved human sustainability, that is, very low consumption of the Earth's resources and zero population growth at the same time.
Well-being is a concept central to this explanation of the Kerala phenomena. A dictionary defines well-being as "a good or satisfactory condition of existence; a state characterized by health, happiness, and prosperity; welfare". In the low income Indian context of this analysis, the higher income implied in the words prosperity and welfare must be set aside. Following the lead of two authorities (Dodds, Ger) we exclude income from our definition of well-being.
The other contents of the dictionary definition of well-being remain intact. Within this restricted study, however, we have a need for specific and widely accepted measurements. We find such measurements in infant mortality rate, life expectancy, educational attainment, and total fertility rate.
Our operational definition within this analysis (securely within the dictionary definition exclusive of income) is a the package of closely associated measures of human behaviours: infant mortality rate, life expectancy, educational attainment, and total fertility rate. This definition is also framed by our understanding of human behavior as a part of human sustainability.
F/MR The best measure available of female status (from high to low) is the share of females which have survived as a proportion of the males who have survived, known as the female/male ratio.
The proportion of females surviving in India is abnormally low and the status of women is low.
IMR Low child death rates are universally desired, and the best measure of human well-being in any society is infant mortality rate. High death rates of children under one year measures a low level of well-being in all age categories.
The high infant mortality rate in India indicates low well-being in India. Low well-being maintains large family choices.
TFR The best measure of movement of a society toward zero population growth (a necessary sustainability condition) is low total fertility rate.
The high Indian total fertility rate does not foreshadow sustainability. Low total fertility rates in Kerala does.
Low female status causes low well-being maintaining high fertility---unsustainable human behavior in India.
This page begins a theoretical frame providing the quickest route to the understanding the Kerala phenomena. For the reader who may not find their understanding of a particular step satisfactory, more detail is just a click or two away. (directory) The most significant differences between Kerala and India explaining the Kerala phenomena are allotted longer descriptions. That is, the Families in India and the Families in Kerala are explained in some detail. This framework is intended to show why these family differences are critical to an understanding of the Kerala phenomena. The path through this theoretical frame is marked by six follow-on questions shown below.
Observing the combination of high well-being measures and low incomes in Kerala, we have asked, How do they do it? And we began by looking at Kerala within the context of India. As necessary background, we first ask: Which important factors have been different between India and industrialized countries throughout the twentieth century? Additional questions in sequence are:
Why does India have low well-being while Kerala has high well-being?
Other than well-being, what is different between India and Kerala?
Why is the survival rate of women less in India?
What is the cause of fatal daughter syndrome?
Does fatal daughter syndrome effect well-being?
Why is fatal daughter syndrome absent in Kerala?
Which important factors have been different between India and industrial countries throughout the twentieth century?
1. In the lower range of incomes found in India, income is a rather good measure of the consumption necessary for human survival. In turn, the material part of consumption is human taking of Earth resources. The low average incomes in India are relative to the low per capita taking of Earth resources, a low taking limited by the amounts of Earth resources available. The low per capita taking of Earth resources and the low incomes of India and Kerala (compared to industrialized countries) have been constant throughout the twentieth century time frame.
2. An important belief system motivating the drive to control Earth resources in the West has been individualism. Within India, human behavior is directed by a contrary philosophy so traditional in the ancient culture of India that we have found it necessary to invent a name for it, familialism. This second factor has been a constant difference of India (and of Kerala within India) and the industrialized countries throughout the twentieth century.
3. A third important India versus West difference is tempo. Many western observers feel stifled and frustrated by the slow momentum of change within India. Think of three tempos: the tempo of culture, the tempo of government, and the tempo of business. The momentum in the West is pulling ahead of government into the faster pace of business. In India the momentum is pulling away from culture into the faster pace of government. The lead change agent in the West is business, while the lead agent in India is government.
The first difference, limited Earth resources per capita, is forecast to become the general condition world wide in the twenty first century. The second difference, familialism, is basic to the descriptions of the India families and Kerala families. The similarity of these background factors in Kerala and India allows us to search for other differences between India and Kerala.
Given that low income is a constant within India and Kerala within India, we ask, How is high well-being achieved in Kerala? This question incorrectly implies that we can find a full answer in Kerala. India is very much involved---our next question should read, Why does India have low well-being while Kerala has high well-being?
In order to place the concept of high well-being in Kerala and low well-being in India firmly in mind, look at the several well-being measures of Kerala compared with India.
Life Expectancy , Infant
Mortality Rate , Total Fertility Rate
An even broader perspective on these well-being measures is available in the comparative well-being data of other nations.
Education offers an additional well-being comparison.
Significantly, Kerala stands out on each well-being measure while India tends to blend in with its neighbors.
Indian low well-being
Why does India have low well-being while Kerala has high well-being? Let us shorten this question asking, What is the cause of the low well-being in India? Or why has the well-being improved so slowly in India? Given high well-being measures in Kerala which have rapidly improved, our search leads us to a question with an available answer: Other than well-being, what is different between India and Kerala?
1. Is the infant mortality higher, is the literacy lower, is the life expectancy less in India? Yes, see the comparative data table. However, these are all measures of lower well-being. Since they are part a composite measurement, they all correlate and show only that India has low well-being. They show a difference between Kerala and India but we cannot claim that they are the cause of themselves. That is, these differences are parts of well-being and can not count as causes of well-being.
2. Are per capita incomes in India lower than in Kerala? Note that income is not included in our measures of well-being. The evidence of the association of high well-being with high incomes in the industrialized countries (Kerala mystery) plus the myth of large amounts of repatriated income from the Gulf states may cause us to look for lower incomes in India than in Kerala. However, the opposite is the case. Note also that the economic growth in India is ten times the economic growth of Kerala.
Purchasing Power Parity
Economic Growth Rate
And in addition, a careful study of the effect of Gulf remittances shows that this source of income has brought the low average incomes in Kerala up to the all India averages during only four years. (Isaac) It is unlikely that any evidence will be produced showing that the incomes are lower in India than in Kerala.
3. Are there more Muslims and Christians in India? We ask this question because these religious communities tend to have larger families than the dominate Hindu populations and are likely to be among the poorest in India.
There are not more Muslims and Christians in India.
4. Are the ruling coalitions of political parties worse in India and the other states of India? Communists have participated in ruling coalitions in several states and in the central government of India. The communists won a majority in the legislative assembly of Kerala in 1957 but have failed to achieved more than a minority status since. Given the long time frame of this analysis and the short time life of political party agendas, we are unable to find that the ruling political coalitions in India have been worse than in Kerala.
5. Is the survival rate of women less in India? The survival of females compared to males is easily shown in the female/male-ratios in each population. In addition, when we look at the census counts, we see that the female/ratio is not only less, it has been declining in a regular pattern throughout the century.
Indian census data. (Nanda)
This table shows the abnormal female/male ratio in India as below one and the ratio for Kerala as above one, normal for other human populations. The Indian ratio in 1901 was 972 females per 1000 males and declined to 927/1000 by 1991. The Kerala ratio in 1901 was 1004 females per 1000 males and increased to 1040/1000 by 1991. India had 3 percent less females than Kerala in 1901 and by 1991 the Indian female deficit had increased to 11 percent.
Among the several possible differences between India and Kerala we found: (1) Infant mortality is higher, literacy is lower, and life expectancy less in India, but that since these are measures of well-being they can not count as differences here. (2) Income is not different. (3) There are not more Muslims and Christians in India. (4) The ruling political coalitions are not worse in India. (5) The survival rate of women is less in India.
Women survival low
Partly by the elimination of other differences which could be significant, we have located one difference, the survival rate of women, which may be the cause of the lower well-being of India. We should next ask, Why is the survival rate of women less in India? We ask this question to lead us to a more critical question, Does the lower survival of women cause the lower well-being? a little further along in this analysis.
Why is the survival rate of women less in India? This question leads us to evidence of differences in the mortality rates of females and males in young and old age categories. In a population with normal female/male ratios, such as Kerala, we might expect and do see a slightly higher death rates for boys age 0-14 than for girls. Demographic evidence shows that both this higher boy death rate and the larger number of boys born compared to girls is genetic. Sex parity is normally reached by or before age 25.
However, in North India the girl child death rate is shown to much higher (28 per 1000) compared to the boy child death rate (19 per 1000). Other studies have located the low survival of women displayed in the abnormally low Indian female/male ratios in the high death rates of little girls contrasted to boys in India. (Miller, Das Gupta)
This girl child selective mortality, a deadly expression of son preference, has been labelled Fatal Daughter Syndrome. We now face another question, What is the cause of fatal daughter syndrome?
Fatal daughter syndrome
Note the sequence of questions which have led us our next question about son preference.
1.What is the cause of the low well-being measures in India
2. What is different between India and Kerala?
3. Why is the survival rate of women less in India?
4. What is the cause of fatal daughter syndrome?
The reader not familiar with the Hindu culture may need to review the importance of familialism prevailing throughout India (noted above as one of two constant differences between India and the West). Individual choice is allowed in India on the condition that such choices serve the interest of the larger family of the individual. In addition, caste and class within caste are matters of pre-eminent importance to Indian families.
This account follows the customs among the higher castes and classes which may set norms for others in their regions and localities. Sons may take wives from families of equal class standing, or if large dowries are offered sons may marry wives from families of a slightly lower class. A transfer of wealth overcomes the misalliance problem. Daughters may only marry up or laterally within class. A significant dowry may be required of the daughter's natal family in either case.
In a class hierarchy with fewer families at the top, the rule for daughters marrying up but never down within class creates an acute need for more sons and less daughters at the hierarchy apex. The need for more sons gets translated within the life process of each family into an urgent family need to dispose of surplus daughters. Recall that we are speaking of an extend Indian family ruled by a patriarch.
There was clear evidence of female infanticide in such high caste/class families in the nineteenth century. (Viswanth) In the twentieth century there is little or no evidence of infanticide. Instead there is girl child neglect increasing the numbers of sons relative to daughters. That is, the relative mortality rates of little girls versus boys explains the low female/male ratios in India.
The Families in India description offers a fuller account of the son preference in India---son preference causing fatal daughter syndrome. It may be important to hold in mind that fatal daughter syndrome does not originate in the lower castes and classes and is absent in Kerala and among the tribal peoples of India. (Raju) To the extent that fatal daughter syndrome happens in the lower castes, it may be a partial imitation of the behavior of the higher castes in a process called diffusion. (Bhat)
The family class and caste explanation of What is the cause fatal daughter syndrome in India? leads to our next question. Does fatal daughter syndrome effect well-being? Recall that both fatal daughter syndrome and well-being are aggregate measures of outcomes of human behavior
The clearest data available showing that fatal daughter syndrome effects well-being is in the following chart which plots the female/males ratios in each Indian state against the total fertility rate of each other state. Each state is represented as a point on the chart. In this chart low female/male ratios have been used as the closest surrogate measures for high fatal daughter syndrome and low total fertility rates has been applied as the best surrogate measures for high well-being. As the female/male ratios decline going up the left side of the chart, the total fertility rates increase from left to right. The increases in total fertility rates caused by the decline in the female/male ratios are represented as an upward line across the chart.
Female/male ratios decrease up the left side. Total Fertility Rates increase across the top. Data from Dre’ze(a) and Sen.
The apparent isolation of Kerala in the lower left corner emphasizes the difference of Kerala from all the rest of India on both of these important measures. The other states of India are scattered upward with increasing degrees of more fatal daughter syndrome and higher fertility rates. The relationship of the measures in this data display strongly asserts that fatal daughter syndrome causes lower well-being in India.
Aside from reducing their numbers, What is the effect of the discrimination known by the girl child living in a society which fosters and allows fatal daughter syndrome? Females bring to the performance of their motherhood roles superior social skills. That is, more skill in the use of language (which appears as a genetic difference, McGuffin) and more empathy (perhaps learned in the practice of mothering roles). These are skills managing children and the management of others in the provision of the needs for children and other dependent persons. We may call this management by mothers, something more than motherhood, mother management. Mother management characterizes the special contribution of women to the management of the efforts of others in the well-being creation processes.
Indian females which have survived the discrimination of fatal daughter syndrome were forced to emphasize their self interested survival skills ahead of their mother management skills. The survival of a ten year old might be at the expense of the survival of her 4 year old sister. Such females are less able to manage effectively in the empathetic and sympathetic processes creating well-being for their families and their communities. These survivors are less effective than those who have not suffered family and community discrimination. That is, we may say that their mother management skills have been impaired.
No fatal daughter syndrome
Asking, What is the cause of the fatal daughter syndrome? we are back to our inquiry, Other than well-being, what is different between India and Kerala? We answered that question: The occurrence of fatal daughter syndrome in India and its absence in Kerala. Next we should ask, Why is fatal daughter syndrome absent in Kerala?
Fatal daughter syndrome has been described as an integral part of the traditional culture of India. Although so old that it is excluded from the usual considerations of development processes, fatal daughter syndrome appears as a consequence of change from gender equity to patriarchy in India. This reconstructed history was described as part of the India background in the introduction. The end of the era of gender equity in India may be located at the Aryan invasions of India, the Pan Hinduism movement creating caste, and/or the development of commerce. (Indian reality)
The absence of fatal daughter syndrome in Kerala is most fully explained as a residue of the era of gender equity in India. That is, the change toward the strong patriarchy which happened in the traditional culture of India but did not occur in Kerala. There is much corroborating evidence in the caste structure of Kerala. The two largest caste communities, the Nayars and the Ezhavas are unique to the Malayalam speaking people of India. Both of these castes maintained matrilineal and matrilocal customs supporting gender equity. The current practice is not matriarchy. Weak patriarchy may best characterize the current family structures of Kerala as further described in Kerala families.
Effect and Cause
We have observed an effect and seek a cause. What is the shortest cause and effect statement we can write? That is, what is the shortest statement applying the known hard data?
The observed effect is the low well-being in India and the high well being in Kerala.
There are no economic indicators which explain the well-being effect. The cause is not economic.
CAUSE of the CAUSE
The cause of the well-being effect is the same as the cause of another effect---the female/male ratios in India of less than one and the female/male ratios in Kerala of more than one.
What is the cause of the effect, low female survival in India and high female survival in Kerala? Two parallel and supporting descriptions of the cause of the effect are known, history and family structure. For history see Creation history and Indian reality. For family structure see Families in India and Families in Kerala.
We set out to solve the mystery of Kerala and along way we have revealed an answer to a more important question. Why is human life in India unsustainable? We began by noting that women die at abnormally high rates compared to men. The Indian female/male ratio of the census data tells this story.
We found that the low female/male ratio in India causes high infant mortality rates(IMR)---in this case, the best single measure of low well-being.
And we found that high infant mortality rates (and low well being) cause high total fertility rates (TFR).
Thus, low female/male ratios cause high total fertility rates and high total fertility rates combined with use of finite Earth resources is unsustainable. Life with low female/male ratios in India is, therefore, unsustainable. Kerala, without low female/male ratios, shows that life in India can be sustainable.
During twelve hard years the writer has sought a solution for the Kerala mystery. By looking into the enigma of India where the mystery is located, a great pair of scholars of the Indian scene, Jean Dre’ze(a) and Amartya Sen have seen a solution to the mystery. Professor Sen has been awarded the Noble Prize in Economics for his extraordinary contributions to our understanding of human behavior.
First, the persistence of extraordinarily high levels of gender inequality and female deprivation are among India’s most serious social failures. Few other regions of the world have achieved so little promoting gender justice.
Second, gender inequality does not decline automatically with the process of economic growth. In fact, we have seen that some important forces operate in the reverse direction .
Third, gender inequality is not only a social failure in itself, it also leads to other social failures. We have illustrated this link in some detail with particular reference to child mortality and general fertility.
The writer’s solution for the Kerala mystery differs in only one small but significant detail from the Dre’ze and Sen analysis. Dre’ze and Sen wrote: "Those regions in India, such as Kerala, which have moved in the direction of more gender equality have received more for all from that move." This writer has not found that Kerala has "moved in the direction of more gender equality". The writer has found that India has moved away from gender equality. (Alexander(b))
The writer’s diversion from the Dre’ze and Sen explanation appears to support the dismal thesis that a Kerala social development model cannot be replicated beyond Kerala. On the other hand, when the writer follows his own method (seeking an explanation of the behavior of the small within the context of the large) he finds a Malabar mystery within the enigma of Kerala. At the time of the structuring of Kerala (as a state within the Indian federation) in 1956, the Malabar part of Kerala was significantly behind the rest of Kerala on desirable well-being measures. We may ask, What caused the well-being in Malabar to improve so rapidly? Malabar consists of the several nothern districts shown on the map of Kerala. In addition to its initially lower well-being measures, the Malabar population includes a larger proportion of Muslims and a smaller proportion of Christians.
Malabar case shows that important well-being improvement can occur within India, and we may quote an optimistic Dre’ze and Sen as if they had Malabar, not Kerala, in mind. "There has, happily, been a growing awareness in recent years of the disadvantaged predicament of women in Indian society, but also that social justice can be achieved only through the active agency of women. The suppression of women from participation in social, political, and economic life hurts the people as a whole, not just women." (Dre’ze(a) pp 177-8) Development scholars wanting to show that ameliorative actions by governments can cause desired development will find the case of Malabar within Kerala exemplary--a model from which India and the several international development agencies may learn much.
Dre’ze and Sen have the penultimate word, "Finally, [gender equality] as a force for change is one of the most neglected aspects of development literature, and this neglect applies as forcefully--or more--in India as anywhere else." A key to the solution of the Kerala mystery within the Indian enigma was noted many years ago by the close observer of human life in China, Pearl Buck, "The basic discovery about any people is the discovery of the relationship between the men and women." (Raju)
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