Household demand for toilets ranks 12 out of 21 preferences in India; TV, motorcycle rank higher

paper.pngIn a new paper, “Demand for household sanitation: The case of India”, Anurag Banerjee (Durham Business School, United Kingdom), Nilanjan Banik  (Mahindra Ecole Centrale, India),  and Ashvika Dalmia (Durham Business School, United Kingdom) look at household demand for toilets, and study the factors leading to open defecation. Using Demographic and Health Survey data they create a wealth index, and use it to rank household preference for toilets vis-à-vis 20 other different consumer durables. Excerpts:

On October 2, 2014 Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) mission, aimed at creating a ‘Clean India’ over the next five years. The launch of the mission comes in answer to the rising perception about Indian cities not being clean. This, unfortunately, is also true to a certain extent. A number of people in rural areas still do not have access to toilets. Each day, about 100,000 tons of human faeces are found in the open (UNICEF, 2015).

Certain schools in rural areas do not have access to toilets. Over 40 per cent of government schools in India do not have a functioning toilet (UNICEF, 2015). According to Census 2011, only 32.70 per cent of rural households have access to toilets. Worldwide, India has the highest number of people defecating in the open, at 597 million (WHO, 2014). In 2012, average concentration of open defecator per square kilometre area was highest in India, more than double than the world average (Coffey et al., 2014).

The Swachh Bharat mission is a supply-side initiative that plans to build 110 million toilets across India between 2014 and 2019. The underlying presumption is India has a large number of poor populations who cannot afford to construct a toilet, and therefore the need for government intervention. However, the social returns in terms of better health outcome will be higher provided people start using these toilets, and stop defecating in the open. The success of government initiative would then depend upon influencing demand for toilets. This paper addresses this important aspect.

As far as the authors are aware this is the first quantifiable attempt to look into household characteristics influencing his/her decision to use toilets. In fact, we rank in terms of household preference, the demand for toilets vis-à-vis 20 other consumer durables such as cot, watch, mattress, chair, bicycle, table, electric fan, television, pressure cooker, radio, motorcycle, water pump, mobile telephone, sewing machine, refrigerator, tractor, animal drawn cart, thresher, and computer.

India is culturally diverse, and provides a natural setting to observe variation in terms of preference for toilet usage against the aforementioned 20 other consumer durables. Ergo, we examine preference structure for using toilets among residents from various states in India. We estimate the likelihood of having a toilet in a household conditional on wealth index, standard of living, household demographic characteristics, and broader cultural and religious factors.

The result suggests that use of toilets is considerably low among households residing in rural areas (0.613), who are economically poor (0.727 for kaccha house), and are from Hindu religion background (0.441). On the contrary, households who are economically better-off (having computers, television, and motorcycles) and have access to a bank account, have a larger proportion of toilet users among them. To understand why India house majority of the world population defecating in the open we create a Standard of Living Index, incorporating various consumer durables and dwelling characteristics.

Our conditional probability estimates suggest that the poor are more likely to defecate in the open. Therefore, it is no surprising that a lower living standard may explain why more number of people defecates in the open. To compute preference, we rank households demand for toilets vis-à-vis other consumer durables such as cot, watch, mattress, chair, bicycle, table, electric fan, television, pressure cooker, radio, motorcycle, water pump, mobile telephone, sewing machine, refrigerator, tractor, animal drawn cart, thresher, and computer.

Among lists of household items that any individual want to use/consume toilets get a lower preference, ranked 12 out of 21. Television and motorcycle both ranks higher than toilets. It means these two items will be adopted at a lower level of wealth before a toilet.

The coefficient on female literacy rates suggest as level of education increase, women are more likely to use a toilet. A household in which a woman has attained a higher education is 3.1 times more likely to use a toilet in comparison to a household where a woman has attained education till the preschool level. Educated women are better able to relate to health and hygienic behaviours that come with use of toilets. The positive impact of more women in the household, or the household head being a woman, may be negated by the fact that such households have a lower mean standard of living index score in comparison to household headed by men, -0.071 (for female) compared to 0.012 (for male).

Region-wise, urban households are more likely to use toilets in comparison to their rural counterparts. In comparison to rural areas, use of toilet in mega cities such as Mumbai and Kolkata are nearly 35 times higher. The odds ratios for the region variables demonstrate, as the level of urbanisation increases, the probability of a household using toilet also increases. The odd ratios for households from large cities using a toilet are much higher than the ones residing in small cities, which in turn is higher than ones residing in small towns. And all these urban-odd ratios are higher than the odd ratios computed for the rural areas.

Household with a better standard of living are likely to use toilets more than the ones who are poor. Our model predicts the odds of using a toilet becomes 7.6 times higher if Standard of Living Index variable increases by 1 unit. A richer household with a pucca house is more likely to use toilets.

Then there are religion and cultural factors affecting use of toilets. India is distinctive in terms of having a diverse culture, religion, and caste. And, all of these vary across states in India. The religion variables demonstrate that the odd ratio for a Muslim household using a toilet is 5.4 times higher than a Hindu household. Even a Christian household is 1.3 times more likely to adopt toilet in comparison to their Hindu counterparts.

This result is surprising, as Indian Muslims are on average both poorer and less educated than the Hindus (Bhalotra et al., 2010). There could be two plausible reasons. First, there may be a historical path-dependency related to religion that encourages open defecation among Hindus. Ramaswamy (2005) and Bathran (2011) argue that open defecation among Hindu households is due to caste system, where the customary circumvention of excreta is sustained by keeping defecation away from the house and entrusting the clean-up job to the so-called ‘untouchables’ or ‘lower’ castes. Second, this gap may not be related to religious differences at all but to the fact that Muslims are more likely to live in urban areas relative to the Hindus. The observation is indeed confirmed by the data that we use. The conditional probability of the household residing in the urban areas is 0.45 for Hindu and 0.55 for Muslims.

Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Other Backward Class (OBC) households have a lower probability of using a toilet when compared with households from general caste Hindu, Muslims and Christians. For the households living in rural areas and countryside, the conditional probability that these household belongs to SC, ST or OBC is over 0.60, in comparison to 0.41 for people from other communities.

Finally is the state-level variance in the use of toilets. The odd ratios for households in the North-Eastern Indian States of Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya etc. and the southern state of Kerala using a toilet facility are much higher than a household in Delhi (the reference state). For example, a household in Tripura is 761.5 times more likely to use a toilet than a household in Delhi. The state dummies for Rajasthan, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu have negative coefficients implying that the probability of households using a toilet in these states is lower than in Delhi.

We also map how a toilet will be adopted out of 21 different durable goods across various states in India. The better the rank of a toilet on a household’s wealth preference ordering, the lower the level of wealth it will be adopted. Kerala and North Eastern States have a higher preference for having a toilet. This result may be the consequence of some inherent state culture, such as the North-East Indian states and Kerala having higher literacy rates, and hence better awareness about hygiene, or due to state-level differentials in sanitation infrastructure, namely availability of water and closed drainage systems.

In fact, in Kerala communities like the Nairs and Ezhavas, and in Meghalaya the Khasi, Jaintias, and the Garo tribes (comprising majority of the population) practice matriarchy, where women have power in activities relating to allocation, exchange, and production. This can also explain the prevalence of more toilet users in these states.

Download full paper HERE



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