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) 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.
Written with Eve Colson-Sihra and Moses Shayo (both The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)