Exploring Social and Economic Disparities in Nepal
Nepal is home to people of various ethnicities that do not have equal access to power and privileges. Specifically, Khas-Aryan groups are considered to be at the center while Indigenous and Dalit groups have been at the periphery of this power structure. Discussion on inequality is complicated in three different ways. First, the lack of analysis at the national level on the social and economic manifestations of inequality diminishes the magnitude of the problem. An understanding of how different groups fare across multiple indicators is essential for raising awareness of such disparities. Second, one could argue that rurality is the primary determinant of inequality. Significant portion of people live in rural areas that have significantly lower access to resources. The stark contrast between urban and rural areas is easily observed in Nepal, making an analysis that can disentangle the ethnicity and rurality components quite significant. Finally, Nepal has seen improvements in social and economic indicators over the years, which reinforce the idea that inequality is a past phenomenon and every group experiences the benefits of development equally. Based on these challenges in examining disparities, three research questions guide the analysis: 1) how does this inequitable access to power and privileges manifest itself in social and economic terms?, 2) how does unequal access to resources look like with the added dimension of rurality?, and 3) How have these disparities changed in the past decade? This study explores these questions using publicly available nationally represented data collected through the Demographic Health Survey (DHS). Data published on 2001, 2006, and 2011 were combined to look at trends of inequities for different ethnic groups in different regions. The combined dataset includes a nationally representative sample of 28,135 households. Wealth is one of the main indicators analyzed in this study, which is a variable representing a mix of items owned by a household. The wealth variable was developed using principle component analysis and is already included in the survey. The items that determine a household’s wealth index varies for rural and urban areas. Although at an early stage of analysis, the study shows that even though poorer households (based on the wealth index) are concentrated in rural areas there are significant differences between region and ethnicity. This suggests that policies and programs in both government and non-government sectors needs to be cognizant that benefits are not shared equitable across groups and region.