ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
-A A +A

Revealed Preference for Open Defecation

Evidence from a New Survey in Rural North India

Diane Coffey ( is with the Offi ce of Population Research, Princeton University. Aashish Gupta, Payal Hathi, Nikhil Srivastav and Sangita Vyas are with the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics. Nidhi Khurana is a Masters of Education candidate at Delhi University. Dean Spears is at the Centre for Development Economics, Delhi School of Economics.

Despite economic growth, government latrine construction, and increasing recognition among policymakers that open defecation constitutes a health and human capital crisis, it remains stubbornly widespread in rural India. We present evidence from new survey data collected in Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Many survey respondents' behaviour reveals a preference for open defecation: over 40% of households with a working latrine have at least one member who defecates in the open. Our data predict that if the government were to build a latrine for every rural household that lacks one, without changing sanitation preferences, most people in our sample in these states would nevertheless defecate in the open. Policymakers in India must lead a large-scale campaign to promote latrine use.

We are very grateful for helpful comments from readers of a draft of this paper. The paper reflects the views only of its authors personally, and not necessarily those of reviewers or of any organisation. A more detailed and complete working paper version is available online at


(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top