Living Conditions, Reference Dependence, and the Well-being of Migrant Workers

Last registered on April 17, 2020


Trial Information

General Information

Living Conditions, Reference Dependence, and the Well-being of Migrant Workers
Initial registration date
April 14, 2020

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
April 17, 2020, 1:04 PM EDT

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



Primary Investigator

University of Michigan

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
University of Michigan
PI Affiliation
University of Michigan

Additional Trial Information

Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
We report the impacts of a randomized housing quality improvement intervention among Indian migrant workers. Despite modest improvements in conditions, respondents experienced a decline in satisfaction and a large increase in psychological distress as a result of treatment. In contrast, residents who faced the same treatment-induced variation in living conditions as the original sample, but who arrived after treatment had already been initiated, had increased satisfaction. Impacts on turnover echo these patterns. We interpret this as evidence of reference dependence: residents who were primed to expect larger-than-realized improvements in living conditions suffered utility losses, while exposed but unprimed residents experienced gains.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Adhvaryu, Achyuta, Anant Nyshadham and Huayu Xu. 2020. "Living Conditions, Reference Dependence, and the Well-being of Migrant Workers." AEA RCT Registry. April 17.
Experimental Details


Our intervention is a change in the management of hostels for migrant garment workers in Bengaluru, India. At baseline, the hostels we study were employer-managed, and living conditions in these hostels were characterized negatively. In two phases, hostel management was transferred to a local NGO specializing in women’s empowerment with specific experience managing migrant worker hostels. The NGO then took a series of measures to improve sanitation, security, and access to utilities in these hostels.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
worker satisfaction, psychological well-being, and turnover
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
We investigate whether the changeover in management has improved hostel conditions and, if so, how improved living conditions in hostels affect migrant workers’ satisfaction and turnover. In order to estimate causal treatment effects, the partner firm rolled out the management changeover across factories in two phases, with factories (and their corresponding hostels) assigned randomly to either the first or the second phase of the changeover. Our research design takes advantage of the gap between phases I and II, during which treatment hostels were under the new (NGO) management while control hostels were still managed by the employer. Near the end of this gap, we conducted a survey among a random sample of workers from all hostels to study differences in satisfaction and subjective well-being. At the same time, we administered a blinded enumerator evaluation survey for all 80 hostels in order to form "objective" measures of changes in housing quality.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
The randomization was conducted by the firm using a random number generator.
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
19 factories
Sample size: planned number of observations
2,259 workers
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
985 workers control, 1,274 workers treatment
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
The Univeristy of Michigan Institutional Review Boards
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number


Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Is the intervention completed?
Intervention Completion Date
December 31, 2016, 12:00 +00:00
Data Collection Complete
Data Collection Completion Date
December 31, 2016, 12:00 +00:00
Final Sample Size: Number of Clusters (Unit of Randomization)
19 factories
Was attrition correlated with treatment status?
Final Sample Size: Total Number of Observations
1,080 workers who joined before the invention started (original sample);
2,29 workers who joined afterward ("joiners")
Final Sample Size (or Number of Clusters) by Treatment Arms
Original sample: 482 workers control, 598 workers treatment Joiners: 112 workers control, 117 workers treatment
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials