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The Psychosocial Impacts of Forced Idleness
Initial registration date
June 11, 2020
June 12, 2020 12:56 PM EDT
Harvard Business School
Other Primary Investigator(s)
Harvard School of Public Health
Additional Trial Information
Social scientists have long posited that employment may deliver social and psychological utility beyond the value of income alone. While cross-sectional evidence around this question exists, this literature suffers from challenges of selection and conflation of pecuniary and non-pecuniary mechanisms. This study presents real-world causal estimates of the psychosocial benefits of employment. We address both limitations in the literature by exogenously imposing employment opportunities and including a comparable group that benefits solely from the pecuniary dimension of employment. We run a field experiment in which we randomize 745 individuals of working age into three arms: (1) a control arm, in which no work; (2) a cash arm, in which no work is offered but a large weekly fee is provided; and (3) a work-for-cash arm, in which individuals are offered employment for eight weeks for an equivalent weekly fee. We work with the recently displaced Rohingya refugees who reside in the largest refugee camp in the world upon the southern tip of Bangladesh, and further explore the mediating roles of past exposure to violence and future uncertainty on the psychosocial value of employment.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes (end points)
We have seven primary outcomes of interest: time-use, mental health, stability, physical health, cognitive function, economic decision making, and willingness to work. Please refer to the attached PAP for details on each.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Our main intervention is providing work tasks to the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
We want to identify the impact of providing work tasks on psychosocial wellbeing (benchmarked against the impact of providing a cash transfer). We also want to determine whether the effects of providing work tasks vary with: (i) uncertainty in work-schedule (mimicking daily labor) and (ii) experience of past violence.
We have four treatment arms:
1. Control group (C): individuals receive a small weekly payment (50 Taka ~ 0.60 USD)
2. Treatment 1 (T1): individuals receive a large weekly payment (450 Taka ~ 5.30 USD) 3. Treatment 2 (T2 - Certainty): individuals are offered the opportunity to work for pay. They receive 150 Taka (1.77 USD) per day of work and a pre-filled calendar that highlights the days they are supposed to work.
4. Treatment 3 (T3 - Uncertainty): individuals are also offered the opportunity to work for pay, receiving 150 Taka (1.77 USD) per day of work. They do not receive a calendar with pre-filled dates -- they are informed every week about the days they would be hired for the following week.
To estimate the impact of receiving a large amount of cash (as opposed to a small amount), we compare outcomes from T1 to C. To estimate the impact of work (as opposed to receiving a small amount of cash), we compare the outcomes of T2 and T3 to C.
To estimate how certainty mediates the impact of work, we compare outcomes of T2 to T1 and T3 to T1.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization is done in the office by a computer
Our main randomization is done at the block level (five households per block). Various sub-randomizations (as described in detail in the attached PAP) are conducted at the individual level.
Was the treatment clustered?
Sample size: planned number of clusters
Sample size: planned number of observations
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
33 blocks in control, 33 blocks in cash, 87 blocks in work-for-cash
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Details provided in attached PAP.
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
Harvard University-Area Committee on the Use of Human Subjects
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number