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We examine the returns from owning cows and buffaloes in rural India. With labor valued at market wages, households earn large, negative median returns from holding cows and buffaloes, at -304% and -75%, respectively. Making the stark assumption of labor valued at zero, median returns are then -5% for cows and +10% for buffaloes (with 52% and 46% of households earning negative returns for cows and buffaloes, respectively). Why do households continue to invest in livestock if economic returns are negative, or are these estimates wrong? We discuss potential explanations, including labor market failures, for why livestock investments may persist.


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