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Improve Self-Image to Increase Savings

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Several 100 Rupee bills laid on a table


Many sex workers in India enter the profession to avoid poverty but then are shunned from society and can’t access financial resources. 


Improving how sex workers think of their profession helps them plan for the future and save more.

The Details

Economist Sayantan Ghosal and colleagues assigned 437 sex workers, defined as anyone who exchanges sexual acts for money, in Kolkata, India to one of two conditions. In the strategies condition, sex workers learned money-saving strategies.

In the self-image condition, sex workers learned the same money-saving tips as those in the strategies condition. In addition, they took part in a group discussion that helped them see their profession in a more positive light. For example, they talked about how to view their work as providing entertainment rather than committing immoral acts. Sex workers in the self-image condition also learned to see themselves as hard-working persons trying to make a living, just like everyone else. After the trainings, researchers paid participants and gave them a choice: They could take the money or deposit it into a savings account. The researchers recorded each participant’s decision.

Compared to sex workers in the strategies condition, sex workers in the self-image condition were more likely to put their payment into a savings account. More than two years later, sex workers in the self-image condition had more money in the bank than those in the strategies condition

Why This Works

When people are ashamed of their profession, they feel bad about themselves and don’t believe that they can secure a better future. But thinking positively about one’s profession empowers people to take charge of their future and save.

When This Works Best

This intervention works best with people who are excluded from society. Training outcasts to re-think their self-image inspires them to plan for the future. 

The Original Study

Ghosal, S., Jana, S., Mani, A., Mitra, S., & Roy, S. (2016). Sex workers, self-image and stigma: evidence from Kolkata brothels (No. 302). Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).

Related Topics

Economic Development


Text by Ellen Reinhart

Photo CC by Monito