Female Labor Force Participation and the Sex Trade

Last registered on September 20, 2023


Trial Information

General Information

Female Labor Force Participation and the Sex Trade
Initial registration date
September 18, 2023

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
September 20, 2023, 11:22 AM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.


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Primary Investigator

Brown University

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
Brown University

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
Economic growth and inflow of capital in Southeast Asia has established the service sector as a primary job creator for women and, thus, means to promote formal female labor participation (FLFP). However, the service sector’s close ties to the sex trade continue to present these women with high-risk, informal income-generating opportunities, most notably through risky paid sex like condomless sex or sex with high-risk partners. While literature has illustrated the positive relationship between FLFP and common economic development indicators (Heath and Jayachandran, 2018) and common poverty alleviation interventions have been tested to decrease the incentives for women to supply sex (Jones and Gong, 2021; Gong et al., 2019), this study will investigate the interaction between FLFP and the market for sex by assessing how women tradeoff between these two types of labor. Using data from a cluster RCT enrolling Cambodian female service workers, we will study the effects of offering service work incentives on women’s risk-taking via measuring impacts to labor supply choices and earnings (service, sex, vs. other work), health outcomes (HIV and other STI results), and financial conditions.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Mahadeshwar, Ruchi and Alex Zhou. 2023. "Female Labor Force Participation and the Sex Trade." AEA RCT Registry. September 20. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.12144-1.0
Sponsors & Partners

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Experimental Details


The proposed study will be a cluster RCT with low-income women whose income-making efforts include sex work, Cambodian service sector workers. Our main intervention aims to relieve financial constraints via either a service work incentives or cash transfer program.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
• Labor supply choices
• Engagement in (risky) sex work
• Health status, including sexual and physical health
• Financial conditions
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
• Labor supply choices: Earnings from and time devoted to intervention and sex, service, and other work
• Engagement in (risky) sex work: Number of partners/encounters, condom usage, partner characteristics
• Health status: HIV and other STI test results and substance use (alcohol/drugs), violence experienced
• Financial conditions: Consumption choices, borrow/lending activity, and debt status

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
The research team will recruit around 600-800 Cambodian female service workers employed in venues including bars, beer gardens, restaurants, and karaokes. After recruitment, participants will be randomly assigned to participate in one study arm as described below.

Control – This pure control group will not receive service work incentives or a cash transfer.

Treatment 1 – This group will be enrolled in a service work incentives program for the duration of their study enrollment. During trainings, participants will be briefed on the incentives task, which is designed to mimic their existing service work duties via the administration and submission of venue customer surveys. Each customer survey is a few questions long and asks questions like “Rate this venue’s drink menu.” Participants earn an incentive per verified survey submitted, paid out on top of and separate from normal venue wages.

Treatment 2 – This group will be enrolled in a cash transfer program for the duration of their study enrollment. Cash transfers will be paid out on top of and separate from normal venue wages.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Randomization by a computer.
Randomization Unit
Service sector venue, e.g. bars, beer gardens, restaurants, and karaokes
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
Up to 400 venues
Sample size: planned number of observations
Up to 800 participants
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Up to 267 individuals (at most 133 clusters per arm)
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Brown University Human Research Protection Program
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
IRB Name
Cambodian National Ethics Committee for Health Research
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number