Under pressure: the impact of women's mental load on labor productivity and occupational choices. Evidence from Kenya.

Last registered on May 23, 2022

Pre-Trial

Trial Information

General Information

Title
Under pressure: the impact of women's mental load on labor productivity and occupational choices. Evidence from Kenya.
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0009021
Initial registration date
May 23, 2022

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
May 23, 2022, 7:23 PM EDT

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

Locations

Region

Primary Investigator

Affiliation
University of Florence

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
Wageningen University
PI Affiliation
University of Florence

Additional Trial Information

Status
In development
Start date
2022-04-11
End date
2022-06-20
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
Abstract
The labor productivity gap between men and women is a widespread phenomenon and seems to persist along the whole wage distribution. In developing countries, this gap is particularly pronounced both in urban and rural settings. Even though the literature has given increasing attention to this issue, it has partly neglected the psychological dimension that could contribute widening this gap. Under this perspective, women risk being more disadvantaged than men because of mental load, the management underlying household activities. This burden is mostly carried by women, and it may have harmful effects on their health, their labor productivity and, more broadly, their empowerment. Following the recent literature on scarcity, according to which poverty negatively impacts cognitive functions and economic outcomes, the aim of this study is to analyze the gender-differentiated impact of mental load on labor productivity controlling for attentional constraints as leading mechanism. To test for this hypothesis, we propose a lab-in-the-field-experiment where participants will be exposed to a scenario inducing thoughts about mental load, and then they will be asked to perform an effort task.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Citation
Cecchi, Francesco, Chiara Rapallini and sveva vitellozzi. 2022. "Under pressure: the impact of women's mental load on labor productivity and occupational choices. Evidence from Kenya. ." AEA RCT Registry. May 23. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.9021
Experimental Details

Interventions

Intervention(s)
We want to examine whether women's mental load, i.e., the management behind household activities, negatively affects cognitive abilities and labor productivity through a lab-in-the-field experiment. The treatment consists of priming in the mind of the participants thoughts related to mental load. They will then be asked to perform an effort task for 30 minutes during which they will have to divide black from red beans, and to complete as many Towers of Hanoi as possible with 4 and 5 disks. In the last slot, they will be asked to choose whether they rather perform the Tower of Hanoi with 5 disks or the beans again. This last information will be used to test whether mental load leads individuals to self-select into less cognitive-demanding tasks (i.e., sorting beans) because their mind is already overloaded by thoughts related to the management of the household activities. We will also test whether mental load leads individuals to make an income-maximizing choice based on information they have from the previous two rounds.
The choice of the two effort tasks is slightly gendered: while dividing black from red beans is a gendered task for women, and requires low cognitive skills, the Tower of Hanoi is slightly gendered towards men.
Intervention Start Date
2022-05-18
Intervention End Date
2022-06-16

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
There are three primary outcome variables of interest: labor productivity, self-selection into less cognitive-demanding jobs, and optimal choice of income maximization based on previous productivity levels.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Labor productivity will be measured as the income earned by the participants in the effort task. These two different tasks allows also for disentangling the impact of mental load on more automatic tasks (i.e., dividing beans) and on more proceduralized tasks (i.e., the Tower of Hanoi). The second outcome of interest will be a dummy variable which will be equal to 1 if the participant chooses to perform the Tower of Hanoi with 5 disks, and 0 if she chooses to sort beans in the third round of the effort task. The third outcome of interest will be a dummy variable equal to 1 if the individual choose the income maximizing option in the third round or not. Based on the productivity levels in the first two rounds, we will build the dummy variable which is equal to one if the participant makes an irrational choice, i.e., if she/he chooses for the third round to perform the task in which she/he was less productive during the first two rounds of the effor task.

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary outcomes will be the average number of moves needed to complete the Towers of Hanoi and the average time needed to complete each Tower. We will also look at the grams of beans divided in each round, and the separate income of each task.
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
Participants in the treatment and in the control group will be exposed to the same activities but in different orders. Participants in the treatment group will be first exposed to the treatment before being asked to perform an effort task. After the effort task, they will be exposed to a Digit Span Task to measure their attention level, they will have to self-assess their own stress level, and they will finally answer basic socio-economic questions. Participants in the control group, on the other hand, will be asked to compile the socio-economic questionnaire first, and then to perform the effort task. After the effort task, they will be exposed to the Digit Time Span and they will have to self-assess their own stress level. They will also have to complete a simplified version of the Raven's matrixes. Finally, they will be exposed to part of the treatment.
The treatment consists of three parts: first, participants will have to compile a time use module under the form of time diaries; then they will be asked to recall their most pressing worries and thoughts related to the household; and finally they will have to link these thoughts and worries within the schedule of a typical workday. To do this last exercise, they will have to look first to a short video with role models (i.e., inhabitants of Kibera) talking about their worries and thoughts in relation to a normal weekday. The scope of the video is twofold: first, it should trigger thoughts related to mental load by having participants identify with the subjects in the video; second, it should help participants to better understand the nature of the exercise we are asking them to engage in.
The effort task will last 30 minutes. The 30 minutes will be divided into three-time slots of 10 minutes each. During the first two slots, participants will have to divide black from red beans and to complete as many Towers of Hanoi as possible with four disks. For the last time slot, participants will have to choose whether they would rather complete as many Towers of Hanoi as possible with 5 disks or divide black from red beans again.
Experimental Design Details
To ensure that all participants spend the same amount of time in the experiment, they will all be exposed to the same activities. Participants in the control group are asked to complete the socioeconomic questionnaire prior to the effort task to make sure that any potential differences in the outcomes of interest are not due to differences in cognitive fatigue. On average, the socioeconomic questionnaire takes the same amount of time as the treatment.
We identify two potential mechanisms through which mental load can impact productivity. The former operates through the attentional constraint: because attention is a limited resource, we hypothesize that mental load, by charging individuals with constant daily thoughts about the management of household activities, reduces their attention at the workplace and, consequently, their productivity. The latter channel involves stress: mental load can increase stress levels, which can in turn either increase or decrease productivity. To test for these two mechanisms, after the effort task we collect data on self-reported stress, by adopting a stress scale validated in Sub-Saharian countries, and we ask participants to complete the Digit Span Task, a psychological task widely used to measure working memory and sustained attention. We randomize the sequence of the modules for each participant to ensure that the structure of the questionnaire has no effect on the responses to these questions. We will then use this information to check whether these two factors mediate the impact of mental load on labor productivity.
Participants in the control group will also be required to complete a simplified version of Raven's matrixes. We will use this information to check for correlations between the performance in the Tower of Hanoi and individuals' cognitive abilities, as well as to check whether higher cognitive functions predict the endogenous choice into a more automatic task (i.e., sorting beans) or into a more proceduralized and more cognitive demanding task (i.e., the Tower of Hanoi with 6 disks). We do not expose participants in the treatment group to this module for two main reasons. First, we are not interested in checking whether mental load reduces fluid intelligence, but rather attention. As we already ask them to perform the Digit Span Task, we do not want to overload them with the Raven's matrixes. Indeed, participants in the treatment group will be exposed to a series of activities that require focus, concentration, and are more emotionally charging than participants in the control group. Second, a reasonable concern could be that, as the Tower of Hanoi is correlated with individual problem solving skils, we would need to control for that in our empirical analysis. To be able to control for fluid intelligence and problem-solving skills we would need to collect this information before any other experimental activity. However, this could impact the performance in the effort task, as the Raven's matrixes can increase cognitive fatigue. As randomization should ensure that cognitive abilities are normally distributed in our sample, we decided not to include this module for participants in the treatment group.
Randomization Method
Randomization done from the office through phone calls.
Randomization Unit
The unit of randomization are individuals. We sample individuals with children under the age of 10, living in urban areas in Nairobi.
Was the treatment clustered?
No

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
We will sample a total of 700 individuals, divided into equal shares between women and men.
Sample size: planned number of observations
700 individuals.
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
We will have 350 participants in the treatment group and 350 participants in the control group. Participants will be randomly assigned to the treatment or control group by the survey instrument.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Supporting Documents and Materials

Documents

Document Name
Questionnaire
Document Type
survey_instrument
Document Description
File
Questionnaire

MD5: 8543b7c3b7d7a00be1bc36bcd648d135

SHA1: 598afc94208d44ae16daba26ec8c4f4fcfc76ba6

Uploaded At: April 08, 2022

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IRB

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
AMREF
IRB Approval Date
2022-05-16
IRB Approval Number
ESRC P1169/2022

Post-Trial

Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Intervention

Is the intervention completed?
No
Data Collection Complete
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?
No

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials