Working Paper, University of Massachusetts, Department of Economics 2015-06
This paper contributes to the ongoing debate about economic inequality in India during the post-reform period. We analyze consumption inequality through the hitherto neglected lens of nonfood expenditure. Using household level consumption expenditure data from the quinquennial "thick" rounds of the NSS, we show that inequality within food and non-food groups has declined, even as overall expenditure inequality has increased over time. We suggest that the rise in overall expenditure inequality is due to the increased weight in the household budget of non-food spending, which tends to be more unequal than food spending. We also show that inequality is very different across broad non-food items. Durables, education, healthcare, and consumer services show the most rapid increases in real expenditure, and also display the highest levels of inequality. Finally, we offer some possible mechanisms for this phenomenon and suggest policy measures to deal with this form of inequality.