Migration is central to economic mobility among many of the world’s poor, opening the door to higher wages and human capital accumulation. Yet, rates of migration are much lower than predicted given the substantial wage premium available in urban areas (Roy 1951; Young 2013; Akram et al. 2017; Beegle et al. 2011; Bryan & Morten 2015). Many potential reasons for this puzzle have been examined, but much of the gap remains unexplained (Clemens 2014; Bryan et al. 2014; Munshi & Rosenzweig 2016; Morten 2016). In this project, we aim to increase the economic opportunities of young female migrants in India by addressing an additional growing global concern that may limit migration: loneliness and social isolation.
We implement a low-cost scalable program delivered in garment factories to address loneliness and social isolation and thereby improve both the mental health and economic outcomes of the young female employees. We pair employees that recently migrated to work in those factories ("juniors") with seasoned employees who have been there for at least 6 months ("seniors"). Pairs of junior and senior buddies will be randomly assigned to a control arm (no intervention) or a treatment arm: social support, in which juniors and seniors are asked to meet regularly. During the meetings, the pair is prompted to discuss and perform activities intended to foster a closer emotional bond and a source of emotional comfort in a challenging new environment.
The study will rigorously evaluate the effectiveness of these interventions on: a) loneliness and depression, b) social networks, including new links and their mental health, c) labor market outcomes, d) female empowerment, and e) self reported physical health and wellbeing. In measuring the flow of mental health through social networks, we aim to quantify the pathways through which the intervention operates and spillover effects. We plan to enroll 500 pairs (1000 participants) (in the RCT sample and up to 3 contacts per RCT participant (3000 total) in the social network sample.