Loneliness Among Young Migrants


Building Holistic Health




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


University of Michigan, Shahi Exports







More than 30% of India’s population are internal migrants, according to a 2017 UN report. Migrants, who move from villages and towns to cities to pursue economic opportunities, lose important support networks during mobility. As a result, feelings of loneliness and social isolation are likely to be exacerbated among the millions of young migrants in the country. Yet, there is a lack of empirical evidence on the role of loneliness in migration decisions.


Can we improve the retention of migrant workers if we introduce policies to reduce loneliness and social isolation?


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

  • by estimating the effect of loneliness on the migration decisions of subjects,
  • by studying the actual impact of the intervention not only on participants but also on their friends and acquaintances, as well as the correlation of subjects’ mental health and their network formation
  • by estimating the effect of retention on the economic lives of the subjects. To this effect, we conducted a pilot study (Oct 2019 - Jan 2020) in two factories of Shahi Exports in Bangalore. The pilot program was a simpler small-scale randomized controlled trial where 80 new female migrants from Odisha were paired with 80 older female migrants, also from Odisha. Some pairs were randomly assigned to do some stylized activities together for two months since the partners within 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, among others,the UCLA20, PHQ Depression and Extraversion, that are implemented regularly, while also checking changes in their measures of productivity using administrative data. 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. We check the change in their networks due to the introduction of a new connection through a social network survey. Additionally, we also look at the change in empowerment due to migration as well as the introduction of the additional connection.

Scale up

Though preliminary, this evidence suggests that the intervention may be effective in generating the double bottom line of enhanced migrant wellbeing and lower firm costs. Using the inferences from the pilot, for the next phase we intend to train the more experienced 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