The Importance of Affirmative Action and Diversity Training: Lessons from a Behavioral Study on the Indian Caste System

Summary of:

Dasgupta, Utteeyo & Mani, Subha & Sharma, Smriti & Singhal, Saurabh, 2020. “Social Identity, Behavior, and Personality: Evidence from India,” IZA Discussion Papers 13515, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).

Background & Theory

All societies have some form of social and racial hierarchies. The most prominent one in India is that of caste. Historically, Indian society was divided on the basis of the caste system that was meant to be determined by occupation but eventually started getting assigned by birth. This led to huge inequalities and injustices. The authors have tried to study the difference in personality traits amongst college students from different castes in India. Competitiveness, confidence, risk attitudes, Big Five personality traits, locus of control, and grit were some specific traits studied.

Research Question(s)

The author tried to answer the following question:

  1. What are some personality and psychological differences between students belonging to the lower vs upper castes in India, specifically in competitiveness, confidence, risk attitudes, Big Five personality traits, locus of control, and grit?


The researchers conducted incentivized experiments among 2,000 college students enrolled in undergraduate programs across fifteen colleges in Delhi University in the year 2014. These experiments were followed by a short socioeconomic survey that captured the student’s demographic characteristics and socioemotional traits. An estimation strategy was developed using the Seemingly Unrelated Regression (SUR) framework.


The authors found that those from the lower castes (scheduled castes, tribes, and other backward castes) are 8.7% and 7.9% points less likely to be competitive in comparison to those belonging to upper castes. Scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST) were also 7.2% points less likely to be confident. Other backward castes (OBCs) were significantly more confident than the upper castes and SCSTs.

Upper caste subjects scored themselves higher on scales of extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, and grit relative to OBCs and SCSTs. Both upper caste and OBC students scored similarly on conscientiousness, but higher than SCSTs. Upper caste subjects had a significant advantage in cognitive ability as measured by the Raven’s test.

How This Translates for the Workplace

  • Conscious Hiring and Affirmative Action: The researchers offer an example of the wage gap in the United States. They mention how there is increasing relevance of “people skills” in the workplace where minority groups may be at a disadvantage because of barriers to such skill development due to racial and cultural differences in upbringing. Workplaces must take this difference in people skills into account when hiring by recognizing the lack of a level playing field. Invest in skills, potential, and commitment; people who fought hard to be at that table. They are the ones who are more likely to value the opportunity and stick with the company for a longer period.

  • The Importance of Diversity Training: Disadvantaged groups in the workplace have to thrive in the same culture as those who did not have the same upbringing. For example, privileged groups are more likely to have gone to private schools. This research showed that those from lower castes were less likely to be competitive or confident. In such a case, workplaces need to nudge their more privileged employees to build a more inclusive environment that enables personal and professional growth of all of those working in the team. We at PPS offer training for workplaces in diversity, inclusion, as well as conflict resolution.

  • Allocations in the CSR budget for Affirmative Action: As many companies begin to act on the importance of their corporate social responsibility (CSR), allocating a share of their profits to causes that enhance education and skill-building of those from marginalized communities can go a long way. This study also highlights the progress that those from lower castes have been able to make with the help of government reservation programs in schools, universities, and jobs, further affirming how important such policies and donor aid are. Workplaces can start by doing short professional mentorship programs for college juniors and seniors, picking the most vulnerable students: women, LGBTQ+ people, and people of color who wouldn’t usually be able to access such opportunities. Aside from reputational benefits, such programs can truly lead to long-term impact.