Desktop version

Home arrow Business & Finance

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font



This book has addressed several issues relating to subjective well-being where such well-being was conditional, at least in part, on the group identity of individuals. The groups ranged from caste in India to race in South Africa to gender in the US and India and ethnicity in the UK. A final chapter dealt with the issue of prejudice - against foreigners, homosexuals, and women - in the context of the world’s regions and religions. The tenor of the book was analytical and based on a rigorous analysis of micro data obtained from a variety of sources.

The ambition underpinning this book is that the issue of subjective wellbeing should not be seen simply as a problem affecting individuals but as one affecting groups. The acceptance of this carries several implications. First, in the context of India and South Africa, both of which embody a domi- nant/subordinate-group cleavage, affirmative action in India has done much to alleviate the effects of caste discrimination and, thereby, to improve the well-being of its lower castes. Nonetheless, affirmative action brings its own dangers and is capable of damaging those who benefit, rather than those who lose, from it. This is because the beneficiaries of affirmative action have to live with the perception - both others’ and their own - that their achievements are not real and that, therefore, their positions are undeserved. The stigma of inferiority is perpetuated because the worth of affirmative-action hires and admissions is devalued on account of the means by which they were secured.

Second, in the case of poor mental health, the effects of the non-gender variables presented here need more careful exploration. For example, the data are silent on the circumstances surrounding marital breakdown which is an important factor in causing depression; similarly, differences in employment, and particularly in job prospects, between men and women or gender differences in the work-home balance, or in childhood traumas, could be better elaborated. These examples provide a compelling argument for marrying mental health information with a richer set of data on individual circumstances.

Third, in terms of domestic violence, patriarchal societies embody cultural traditions which offer justifiable reasons for a wife to be beaten and which, therefore, tend to blame victims for violating norms and excuse perpetrators who chastise their wives for these violations. According women dignity and equality is an issue that male-centric countries like India need to urgently address.

Fourth, the rupture to race relations caused by disparities in the treatment of minorities vis-a-vis the majority population is an issue that bedevils the UK and the US. The evidence is that stopping and searching people on the street is not an efficient mode of policing and so minorities might be justified in regarding such stops more as a demonstration of power and an instrument of control than a valid method of crime detection or prevention.

Although this book has pointed to several instances in which belonging to a group may corrode one’s capacity to be happy, it is a welcome development that, in response to these difficulties, disadvantaged groups often form support networks to help members mitigate such disadvantages. For example, “caste associations” in India have established horizontal solidarity between persons belonging to the same caste group but living in different parts of the country. These have become associations for furthering the collective welfare of their members, and in that sense, they represent interest groups intent on furthering the political and economic interests of the group. Similarly, women’s self-help groups are predicated on the assumption that collective action is an effective way of overcoming gender disadvantages, while the gay community has effective organisations for coping with the difficulties faced by homosexuals. All in all, therefore, the static picture of group disadvantage needs to be nuanced by the positive responses of these groups in helping themselves to alleviate their situation.


Related topics