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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
Date of revision:
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
Note: EFG
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  1. 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.
  2. Edward L. Glaeser & Albert Saiz, 2003. "The Rise of the Skilled City," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 2025, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  3. Desmet, Klaus & Rossi-Hansberg, Esteban, 2007. "Spatial Growth and Industry Age," CEPR Discussion Papers 6421, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. 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.
  5. Edward L. Glaeser & William R. Kerr & Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto, 2009. "Clusters of Entrepreneurship," Harvard Business School Working Papers 10-019, Harvard Business School.
  6. Sukkoo Kim & Robert A. Margo, 2003. "Historical Perspectives on U.S. Economic Geography," NBER Working Papers 9594, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Edward L. Glaeser & Joseph Gyourko, . "Urban Decline and Durable Housing," Zell/Lurie Center Working Papers 382, Wharton School Samuel Zell and Robert Lurie Real Estate Center, University of Pennsylvania.
  8. Desmet, Klaus & Rossi-Hansberg, Esteban, 2009. "Spatial Development," CEPR Discussion Papers 7479, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  9. Jonathan Eaton & Zvi Eckstein, 1994. "Cities and Growth: Theory and Evidence from France and Japan," NBER Working Papers 4612, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Mark Wright & Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, 2004. "Urban Structure and Growth," 2004 Meeting Papers 33, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Edward Glaeser & Janet Kohlhase, 2003. "Cities, regions and the decline of transport costs," Economics of Governance, Springer, vol. 83(1), pages 197-228, October.
  14. Edward L. Glaeser & Joseph Gyourko & Raven E. Saks, 2005. "Urban Growth and Housing Supply," NBER Working Papers 11097, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Nir Jaimovich, 2004. "Firm Dynamics, Markup Variations, and the Business Cycle," Discussion Papers 07-013, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, revised Mar 2007.
  16. 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.
  17. Jan Eeckhout, 2004. "Gibrat's Law for (All) Cities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1429-1451, December.
  18. Edward L. Glaeser & Jed Kolko & Albert Saiz, 2000. "Consumer City," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1901, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  19. 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.
  20. Xavier Gabaix, 1999. "Zipf'S Law For Cities: An Explanation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(3), pages 739-767, August.
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