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 7 months ("seniors"). Pairs of junior and senior buddies will be randomly assigned to a control arm (no intervention) or one of the following treatment arms: i) social support, in which juniors and seniors are asked to meet regularly. During the meetings, the pair is prompted to discuss and perform activities are intended to foster a closer emotional bond and a source of emotional comfort in a challenging new environment, and ii) senior buddies are also trained in and deliver a curriculum which draws on Problem Management Plus (PM+) in order to help their junior buddy adjust to the new environment and address the negative beliefs caused by loneliness. During these meetings, the junior and senior engage in joint problem solving, with the senior helping the junior develop strategies to address and to cope with challenges they face. Importantly, PM+ is designed to be delivered by lay-people in resource-poor settings.
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 1,000 pairs (2,000 participants) in the RCT sample and 3 contacts per RCT participant (6,000 total) in the social network sample. However, these sample sizes may be adjusted based on additional power calculations following the next pilot.