Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Karen Mingst

Second Advisor

Dr. Emily Beaulieu


What explains the variation of child labor rates across Indian states? This dissertation explores why certain states in India, which are not necessarily the wealthiest, have been able to reduce child labor significantly in the past few decades, while child labor continues to increase at alarming rates in other states. Previous economic and cultural explanations, which focus on household-level poverty or the hierarchical social stratification of Indian society fail to adequately explain variation in child labor rates across Indian states. This research project explores how systematic regional differences in bureaucratic performance and patterns of civic engagement have influenced child labor rates in Indian states. The dissertation articulates and tests several hypotheses about the efficacy of bureaucracy and civil society activity in implementing child labor and elementary education laws. This study employs a multi-level research design including a range of statistical and qualitative techniques of analysis to get at the social and institutional variables that influence parents’ decision to send a child to work. It utilizes cross-state survey dataset for 28 Indian states for the year 2005 to run statistical analyses which confirm the theoretical hypotheses. Further, two case studies based on six months of fieldwork in the two Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan provide further understanding of the theoretical mechanisms. This study finds that educational deprivation plays a key role in determining levels of child labor- even controlling for income, states that have focused on universal elementary education have been more successful at reducing child labor than states that have not prioritized elementary education.