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How Do We Choose Our Identity? A Revealed Preference Approach Using Food Consumption

David Atkin, Eve Colson-Sihra, Moses Shayo

NBER Working Paper No. 25693
Issued in March 2019
NBER Program(s):The Development Economics Program, The Political Economy Program

Are identities fungible? How do people come to identify with specific groups? This paper proposes a revealed preference approach, using food consumption to uncover ethnic and religious identity choices in India. We first show that consumption of identity goods (e.g. beef and pork) systematically responds to forces suggested by social-identity research: group status and group salience, with the latter proxied by inter-group conflict. Moreover, identity choices respond to the cost of following the group's prescribed behaviors. We propose and estimate a modified demand system to quantify the identity changes that followed India's 1991 economic reforms. While social-identity research has focused on status and salience, economic costs appear to play a dominant role.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w25693

 
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