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Cities, Skills, and Regional Change

  • Edward L. Glaeser
  • Giacomo A.M. Ponzetto
  • Kristina Tobio

One approach to urban areas emphasizes the existence of certain immutable relationships, such as Zipf's or Gibrat's Law. An alternative view is that urban change reflects individual responses to changing tastes or technologies. This paper examines almost 200 years of regional change in the U.S. and finds that few, if any, growth relationships remain constant, including Gibrat's Law. Education does a reasonable job of explaining urban resilience in recent decades, but does not seem to predict county growth a century ago. After reviewing this evidence, we present and estimate a simple model of regional change, where education increases the level of entrepreneurship. Human capital spillovers occur at the city level because skilled workers produce more product varieties and thereby increase labor demand. We find that skills are associated with growth in productivity or entrepreneurship, not with growth in quality of life, at least outside of the West. We also find that skills seem to have depressed housing supply growth in the West, but not in other regions, which supports the view that educated residents in that region have fought for tougher land-use controls. We also present evidence that skills have had a disproportionately large impact on unemployment during the current recession.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16934.

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Date of creation: Apr 2011
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Publication status: published as Edward L. Glaeser & Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto & Kristina Tobio, 2014. "Cities, Skills and Regional Change," Regional Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 48(1), pages 7-43, January.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16934
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  1. Edward L. Glaeser & Joseph Gyourko, 2001. "Urban Decline and Durable Housing," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1931, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  2. Edward L. Glaeser & Albert Saiz, 2003. "The Rise of the Skilled City," NBER Working Papers 10191, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Klaus Desmet & Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, 2007. "Spatial Growth and Industry Age," NBER Working Papers 13302, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Edward L. Glaeser & William R. Kerr & Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto, 2009. "Clusters of entrepreneurship," Economics Working Papers 1359, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  5. Mark Wright & Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, 2004. "Urban Structure and Growth," 2004 Meeting Papers 33, Society for Economic Dynamics.
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  7. Jan Eeckhout, 2004. "Gibrat's Law for (All) Cities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1429-1451, December.
  8. Edward Glaeser & Janet Kohlhase, 2003. "Cities, regions and the decline of transport costs," Economics of Governance, Springer, vol. 83(1), pages 197-228, October.
  9. Jesse M. Shapiro, 2005. "Smart Cities: Quality of Life, Productivity, and the Growth Effects of Human Capital," NBER Working Papers 11615, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Jaimovich, Nir & Floetotto, Max, 2008. "Firm dynamics, markup variations, and the business cycle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(7), pages 1238-1252, October.
  11. Klaus Desmet & Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, 2009. "Spatial Development," NBER Working Papers 15349, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Edward L. Glaeser & Joseph Gyourko & Raven E. Saks, 2005. "Urban Growth and Housing Supply," NBER Working Papers 11097, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Sukkoo Kim & Robert A. Margo, 2003. "Historical Perspectives on U.S. Economic Geography," NBER Working Papers 9594, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Thomas J. Holmes, 1998. "The Effect of State Policies on the Location of Manufacturing: Evidence from State Borders," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(4), pages 667-705, August.
  15. Simon, Curtis J. & Nardinelli, Clark, 2002. "Human capital and the rise of American cities, 1900-1990," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 59-96, January.
  16. Gabaix, Xavier & Ioannides, Yannis M., 2004. "The evolution of city size distributions," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, in: J. V. Henderson & J. F. Thisse (ed.), Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 53, pages 2341-2378 Elsevier.
  17. Eaton, Jonathan & Eckstein, Zvi, 1997. "Cities and growth: Theory and evidence from France and Japan," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(4-5), pages 443-474, August.
  18. Xavier Gabaix, 1999. "Zipf's Law for Cities: An Explanation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 739-767.
  19. Duranton, Gilles, 2006. "Some foundations for Zipf's law: Product proliferation and local spillovers," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(4), pages 542-563, July.
  20. Steckel, Richard H., 1978. "The Economics of U.S. Slave and Southern White Fertility," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 38(01), pages 289-291, March.
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