Loneliness Among Young Migrants


Unlocking Female Labor




500 workers for pilots, impacts 120,000 workers if scaled all over Shahi


University of Michigan, Shahi Exports







More than 30% of the population of India are internal migrants (UN report, 2017). On the other hand, migrants lose their important networks during mobility, and feelings of loneliness and social isolation are likely to be exacerbated among the millions of young migrants moving to cities to pursue economic opportunities. Yet, why is there a lack of empirical evidence on the importance of loneliness in migration decision?


Can we improve retention of migrant workers if we provide policies to reducing loneliness and social isolation?


The objective of Buddysystem project is to understand social isolation through loss of networks and loneliness as hindrance to the economic advancement of migrant workers. Using a randomized controlled trial, we wish to understand the efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), provided to new incoming migrants by older migrants on the mental health, as well as the economic lives of the former. We evaluate the effect in multifold:

  1. by estimating the effect of loneliness on migration decision of subjects.
  2. by evaluating the actual impact of the intervention by studying the flow of the intervention from participants to their social networks as well as the impact of subjects’ mental health on their network formation.
  3. by estimating the effect of retention on the economic lives of the subjects.

To this effect, we are conducting a pilot study (Oct 2019 - Jan 2020) in two factories of Shahi exports in Bangalore. The pilot program is a simpler small-scale randomized controlled trial where 80 new female migrants from Odisha are paired with 80 old female migrants from Odisha. Some pairs are randomly assigned to do some stylized activities together for two months since pairing and other pairs do not know each other.


For the pilot, we are evaluating the effect of providing a well-connected and experienced friend/mentor on reducing the social isolation and loneliness faced by new migrants and in turn the effect on their retention in the factory. We evaluate this impact using the following instruments that are implemented regularly and also check the change in their measures of productivity using administrative data.

  1. We evaluate their mental and physical health through UCLA’s instrument for checking loneliness and their PHQ8 score for depression, and a physical well-being survey respectively.
  2. We check their change in networks due to introduction of a new connection through a social network survey.
  3. Additionally, we also look at the change in empowerment due to migration as well as the introduction of the additional connection.

Scale up

Using the inferences from the pilot, for the next phase we intend to train the old migrants in CBT and then see the impact of peer to peer treatment for mental health on the migration decisions of the new migrants. This will be a heavier treatment, beyond the introduction of an additional connection, as done for the pilot.

Image credits: Nayantara Parikh

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