Keeping up with Kerala’s Joneses : Relative Deprivation and Conspicuous Consumption among Kerala’s Gulf Emigrants
by Balasubramanyam Pattath
Balasubramanyam Pattath's Master Thesis, Keeping up with Kerala’s Joneses was the runner up dissertation for the 2019 Global Migration Award. His in-depth analysis of relative deprivation and conspicuous consumption among Kerala’s Gulf Emigrants’ deserves its place in the Global Migration Centre Research Papers series, designed at promoting excellent research in the field of migration.
Using data from the Kerala Migration Surveys (KMS), this mixed-methods paper investigates the role of relative deprivation as a driver of international migration in Kerala. The premise for this research derives from certain consumption patterns in Kerala that are referred to by scholars as ‘conspicuous consumption’, a result of the Gulf migration phenomenon witnessed since the 1970s. I learn from the work of Czaika (2012) and slice and dice the data based on reference groups within the state of Kerala to obtain measures of Individual Relative Deprivation (IRD) and Group Relative Deprivation (GRD), both derived using household consumption expenditures. I also derive two variants of the Yitzhaki index. Each measure is then empirically tested with reference to their role as drivers of international migration on the KMS 2011 and KMS 2016 cross-sections and the 2011-2016 panel. I find that IRD and GRD increase the tendency for international migration when the reference group is religion. I also find the presence of Multiple Relative Deprivation (MRD) among households in Kerala. The Yitzhaki index is also associated with increased emigration for certain religious groups and for specific consumption quartiles. While I cannot unassailably argue that conspicuous consumption among return migrant families in Kerala causes perceptions of relative deprivation among aspirant families which then motivates them to emigrate, I report my findings from semi-structured qualitative interviews to suggest the viability of the same.