Rational Discouragement? Returns to Search for Marginal Labor Force Participants

Last registered on July 29, 2020


Trial Information

General Information

Rational Discouragement? Returns to Search for Marginal Labor Force Participants
Initial registration date
July 28, 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
July 29, 2020, 10:11 AM EDT

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



Primary Investigator

Bates College

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
Duke University
PI Affiliation
Duke University
PI Affiliation
Duke University

Additional Trial Information

On going
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Many individuals state that they want to work but are neither working nor actively searching for work. This may reflect “rational discouragement,” in which they correctly anticipate that their private returns to search are low. If so, encouraging these individuals to increase search effort may have private costs and potentially even negative externalities due to congestion costs. Alternatively, some individuals may fail to search despite high private returns. We conduct a field experiment in Pakistan that randomly varies the process of applying for jobs. We use this to describe the marginal individuals induced to search by an easier process and identify their private returns to search.

We are registering this trial during the COVID-19 epidemic. Our intervention end date, trial end date, and final sample size will depend on the progress of the epidemic.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Field, Erica et al. 2020. "Rational Discouragement? Returns to Search for Marginal Labor Force Participants." AEA RCT Registry. July 29. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.5997-1.0
Experimental Details


Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
job search, employment, employment characteristics
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
We also measure potential mechanisms such as beliefs and search costs.
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
Individual participants on Job Talash, a job search facilitation service, are randomly assigned to one of two different processes for applying for jobs. Both groups are matched regularly to posted vacancies based on their qualifications and preferences. The control group receives a text message with a short list of the matched vacancies and an invitation to call the service to submit job applications. The treatment group receives a phone call with a list of the vacancies and can submit applications during that call. We compare outcomes across individuals assigned to the different treatments to identify effects on job search and downstream employment outcomes. We use additional randomized treatments for subsamples and subperiods to evaluate mechanisms that might explain job search and employment effects.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomization was conducted using Stata.
Randomization Unit
Treatment is assigned at the participant level. Analysis using panel data on participants (e.g. participant*vacancy application decisions) will account for within-participant clustering.
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
Sample size: planned number of observations
Individuals: 10,373 - sample size at the time of registering the PAP with enrollment ongoing, final sample size will depend on COVID-19.
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
5,170 individuals in treatment; 5,203 in control at the time of registering the study.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Duke University
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
C0441 / 2019-0067


Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Is the intervention completed?
Data Collection Complete
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials