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Are Poor Cities Cheap for Everyone? Non-Homotheticity and the Cost of Living Across U.S. Cities

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  • Jessie Handbury

Abstract

This paper shows that the products and prices offered in markets are correlated with local income-specific tastes. To quantify the welfare impact of this variation, I calculate local price indexes micro-founded by a model of non-homothetic demand over thousands of grocery products. These indexes reveal large differences in how wealthy and poor households perceive the choice sets available in wealthy and poor cities. Relative to low-income households, high-income households enjoy 40 percent higher utility per dollar expenditure in wealthy cities, relative to poor cities. Similar patterns are observed across stores in different neighborhoods. Most of this variation is explained by differences in the product assortment offered, rather than the relative prices charged, by chains that operate in different markets.

Suggested Citation

  • Jessie Handbury, 2019. "Are Poor Cities Cheap for Everyone? Non-Homotheticity and the Cost of Living Across U.S. Cities," NBER Working Papers 26574, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:26574
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    JEL classification:

    • F11 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Neoclassical Models of Trade
    • R11 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Regional Economic Activity: Growth, Development, Environmental Issues, and Changes
    • R22 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - Other Demand
    • R32 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Real Estate Markets, Spatial Production Analysis, and Firm Location - - - Other Spatial Production and Pricing Analysis
    • L81 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Retail and Wholesale Trade; e-Commerce

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