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Urbanization in the United States, 1800-2000

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  • Leah Platt Boustan
  • Devin Bunten
  • Owen Hearey

Abstract

This handbook chapter seeks to document the economic forces that led the US to become an urban nation over its two hundred year history. We show that the urban wage premium in the US was remarkably stable over the past two centuries, ranging between 15 and 40 percent, while the rent premium was more variable. The urban wage premium rose through the mid-nineteenth century as new manufacturing technologies enhanced urban productivity; then fell from 1880 to 1940 (especially through 1915) as investments in public health infrastructure improved the urban quality of life; and finally rose sharply after 1980, coinciding with the skill- (and apparently also urban-) biased technological change of the computer revolution. The second half of the chapter focuses instead on the location of workers and firms within metropolitan areas. Over the twentieth century, both households and employment have relocated from the central city to the suburban ring. The two forces emphasized in the monocentric city model, rising incomes and falling commuting costs, can explain much of this pattern, while urban crime and racial diversity also played a role.

Suggested Citation

  • Leah Platt Boustan & Devin Bunten & Owen Hearey, 2013. "Urbanization in the United States, 1800-2000," NBER Working Papers 19041, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19041 Note: DAE
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    Cited by:

    1. Zachary Ward, 2016. "The Role of English Fluency in Migrant Assimilation: Evidence from United States History," CEH Discussion Papers 049, Centre for Economic History, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
    2. Ran Abramitzky & Leah Platt Boustan & Katherine Eriksson, 2016. "To the New World and Back Again: Return Migrants in the Age of Mass Migration," NBER Working Papers 22659, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N91 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • N92 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • R0 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General

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