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Understanding the City Size Wage Gap


  • Nathaniel Baum-Snow
  • Ronni Pavan


In this paper, we decompose city size wage premia into various components. We base these decompositions on an estimated on-the-job search model that incorporates latent ability, search frictions, firm-worker match quality, human capital accumulation, and endogenous migration between large, medium, and small cities. Counterfactual simulations of the model indicate that variation in returns to experience and differences in wage intercepts across location type are the most important mechanisms contributing to observed city size wage premia. Variation in returns to experience is more important for generating wage premia between large and small locations, while differences in wage intercepts are more important for generating wage premia between medium and small locations. Sorting on unobserved ability within education group and differences in labour market search frictions and distributions of firm-worker match quality contribute little to observed city size wage premia. These conclusions hold for separate samples of high school and college graduates. Copyright 2012, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Nathaniel Baum-Snow & Ronni Pavan, 2012. "Understanding the City Size Wage Gap," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 79(1), pages 88-127.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:restud:v:79:y:2012:i:1:p:88-127

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gabriel M. Ahlfeldt & Stephen J. Redding & Daniel M. Sturm & Nikolaus Wolf, 2015. "The Economics of Density: Evidence From the Berlin Wall," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 83, pages 2127-2189, November.
    2. Alessia Matano & Paolo Naticchioni, 2009. "Wage distribution and the spatial sorting of workers and firms," Working Papers - Dipartimento di Economia 8-DEISFOL, Dipartimento di Economia, Sapienza University of Rome, revised 2009.
    3. Pierre-Philippe Combes & Gilles Duranton & Laurent Gobillon, 2011. "The identification of agglomeration economies," Journal of Economic Geography, Oxford University Press, vol. 11(2), pages 253-266, March.
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    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • R12 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Size and Spatial Distributions of Regional Economic Activity; Interregional Trade (economic geography)
    • R23 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - Regional Migration; Regional Labor Markets; Population


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