Principal Investigator

Aim 1: Provide the first estimates of loneliness among a young female migrant population in India.
Aim 2: Conduct a pilot study of an innovative but evidence-based program to: a) reduce loneliness, b) improve mental and physical health, and c) improve labor market outcomes.


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 on those factories ("juniors") with seasoned employees who have been there for at least 7 months ("seniors"). Junior and senior buddies will be randomly assigned to one of the following treatment arms: i) social support, juniors and seniors are asked to meet twice-weekly for eight weeks. 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+) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)-informed techniques in order to help their junior buddy adjust to the new environment and address the negative beliefs caused by loneliness. During the twice weekly 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. Piloting of the social support arm showed that it is efficacious in reducing loneliness and associated poor mental health. This grant application will allow us to pilot the second treatment arm, facilitating an application to NIH for funds to complete the full study with 2,000 participants.

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