Jan Eeckhout, Christoph Hedtrich, Roberto Pinheiro, 16 October 2021

The adoption of information technology can cause polarisation in the labour market via the displacement of routine cognitive jobs. This column uses data on over 200,000 firms in the US from 1990 to 2015 to show that the labour savings from IT are largest in big cities and metropolitan areas, where wages are higher, so urban firms have the biggest incentives to invest in these technologies. This in turn leads to the polarisation of occupations across geography and accounts for the rise in wage inequality within cities.

Yuhei Miyauchi, Kentaro Nakajima, Stephen Redding, 04 August 2021

Traditional theories emphasise production decisions and the commuting costs of workers in shaping the spatial concentration of economic activity in cities. However, much of urban travel is related to consumption of non-traded services, such as trips to restaurants, shopping centres, and cultural venues. This column looks at commuting and non-commuting trips within the Greater Tokyo metropolitan area to explore how consumption access can explain the observed spatial variation in economic activity. Access to consumption opportunities and to employment opportunities both matter; focusing solely on commuting trips provides a misleading picture of travel patterns.

Luc Christiaensen, Joachim De Weerdt, Bert Ingelaere, Ravi Kanbur, 21 April 2021

Despite potentially greater income gains in big cities, migrants from rural areas in developing countries often move to small towns. This column uses survey data from Tanzania to show that distance drives destination in migration decisions, particularly for the poor and for those with no education. This finding explains the seeming paradox of greater migration to small towns than to big cities, and provides a strong argument for a more balanced orientation of development investment between the two. 

Cem Özgüzel, Paolo Veneri, Rudiger Ahrend, 15 July 2020

Places differ in the degree to which they can maintain economic activity through remote working in the face of shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic. This column assesses the capacity of regions in 30 developed economies to shift to remote working during a lockdown. Based on individual-level data on occupations from labour force surveys, it shows that cities – and in particular capitals – typically have a higher share of occupations suitable for remote working. This may offset some of the stronger negative economic impacts of COVID-related policies on cities. Regional disparities in the capacity for remote working also clearly reflect the level of education of the workforce.

Ulrich J. Eberle, Vernon Henderson, Dominic Rohner, Kurt Schmidheiny, 09 July 2020

Urbanisation is a major driver of economic development. Agglomeration forces that make cities productive and dispersion forces that limit their growth have been extensively studied, but the effect of ethnolinguistic diversity has been largely overlooked. This column shows that more diverse regions tend to experience more social tensions and conflict, less urbanisation, less urban concentration, and hence potentially less economic growth. This effect is however more confined to intermediate political regimes like fragile democracies, whereas a mature degree of democracy helps to defuse the negative impact of diversity on urbanisation.

Antonio Accetturo, Michele Cascarano, Guido de Blasio, 15 April 2020

From the 16th to the early 19th century, coastal areas of Italy (especially in the south-west) were subject to attacks by pirates launched from the shores of northern Africa. To protect themselves, residents of coastal locations moved inland to mountainous and rugged areas. This column shows how relocation constrained local economic development for a long period after the piracy threat had subsided and may have had aggregate consequences on Italy’s post-WWII development.

Panle Jia Barwick, Shanjun Li, Liguo Lin, Eric Zou, 12 February 2020

During 2013–2014, China launched a nationwide, real-time air quality monitoring and disclosure programme which substantially expanded public access to pollution information. This column analyses the impact of the programme and finds that it triggered a cascade of changes in household behaviour, prompting people to find out more online about pollution-related topics, adjust their day-to-day consumption to avoid exposure to pollution, and exhibit a higher willingness to pay for housing in less-polluted areas. The programme’s estimated annual health benefits far outweigh the combined costs of the programme and associated pollution-avoidance behaviours.

Jonathan Dingel, Antonio Miscio, Donald R. Davis, 02 February 2020

Nearly three billion more people are expected to join the world’s urbanised population over the coming decades, most of them in developing countries. In order to compare the spatial distribution of economic activity in different cities as they evolve, this column begins with a deceptively simple question: what constitutes a city? Using satellite imagery of lights at night to define cities, this approach finds that in Brazil, China, and India, agglomeration appears to be skill-biased, as it is in developed economies.

Charles Goodhart, Anthony Venables, 17 January 2020

When the industries that have sustained our cities decline, how can we regenerate urban areas? At the SUERF conference in Amsterdam, Tony Venables and Charles Goodhart tell Tim Phillips that redevelopment policies may have made regional inequality and social conflict worse.

Fabian Eckert, Sharat Ganapati, Conor Walsh, 26 September 2019

In recent years, wages for highly skilled workers have grown rapidly. Using US data between 1980 and 2015, this column studies a group of service industries that are skill-intensive, widely traded, and have recently seen explosive wage growth. It shows that, unlike any other sector, the wage growth in these industries was strongly biased toward the densest local labour markets and the highest-paying firms. These developments alone explain 30% of the increase in inequality between the 50th and 90th percentiles of the wage distribution. 

Kacie Dragan, Ingrid Gould Ellen, Sherry Glied, 19 September 2019

The pace of gentrification in US cities has accelerated, but little evidence exists on its impact on low-income children. This column uses Medicaid claims data to examine how gentrification affects children’s health and wellbeing in New York City. It finds that low-income children born in areas that gentrify are no more likely to move than those born in areas that don't gentrify, and those that do move tend to end up living in areas of lower poverty. Moreover, gentrification does not appear to dramatically alter the health status or health-system utilisation of children by age 9–11, although children growing up in gentrifying areas show somewhat elevated levels of anxiety and depression.

Tomoya Mori, 11 August 2019

The growth of large cities is often attributed to their proximity to exogenous, first-nature advantages. This column uses data on 450 Japanese cities to show that in fact, the regularity of agglomeration holds as a natural consequence of endogenous agglomeration and dispersion forces at the global or local level, rather than exogenous factors.

Theresa Kuchler, Johannes Stroebel, 09 August 2019

The mixing of people and ideas in cities is at the heart of the ‘agglomeration externalities’ that drive the high productivity of cities. While public transit infrastructure is thought to help different people living in different parts of the same city to interact with one another, the lack of large-scale data has made it difficult to study. This column explores the link between public transit and social connectedness in New York City. It finds the first suggestive evidence that New York City’s public transit system plays an important role in enabling social ties to be formed and maintained across geographic distances.

Prottoy A. Akbar, Victor Couture, Gilles Duranton, Adam Storeygard, 29 June 2019

Urban transportation in developing countries is prioritised for massive investments, yet little is known about the determinants of urban mobility in these countries. This column applies a methodology for measuring the performance of overall motor vehicle transportation in a city to the 154 largest cities in India. It finds that there are substantial differences in mobility speeds across large Indian cities but that the variation is driven primarily by uncongested mobility, not by congestion delays. This implies that typical policy measures attempting to improve urban mobility are missing the mark altogether.

David Cuberes, Jennifer Roberts, Cristina Sechel, 02 June 2019

Richer households have typically chosen to live in the suburbs of big cities because of the lower prices and larger properties. This column reports evidence from England that multiple factors now influence household location, including such urban amenities as parks, monuments, restaurants, and public transport. Analysis of the eight largest cities outside London finds no systematic relationship between income and household distance to the city centre. Indeed, household heterogeneity is an important determinant of location: for example, on average households with heads who are migrants live 25% closer to the centre than non-migrants; and only households who are employed are influenced by the availability of public transport.

Rémi Jedwab, Noel Johnson, Mark Koyama, 08 May 2019

The Black Death killed 40% of Europe’s population between 1347 and 1352, but little is known about its spatial effects. The column uses variation in Plague mortality at the city level to explore the short-run and long-run impacts on city growth. After less than 200 years the impact of Black Death mortality in cities was close to zero, but the rate of urban recovery depended on advantages that favoured trade.

Gabriel Ahlfeldt, Elisabetta Pietrostefani, 22 February 2019

Most countries pursue policies that implicitly or explicitly aim at promoting ‘compact urban form’, but so far these policies have not been well-grounded in evidence. This column summarises the state of knowledge on the economic effects of density on various economic outcomes. It concludes that densification policies may lead to aggregate welfare gains, but there may be regressive distributional consequences.

James J Feigenbaum, Christopher Muller, Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, 18 February 2019

The mortality rate of non-Hispanic white Americans in midlife has been rising since the beginning of the 21st century, in contrast to the national decline in deaths from infectious disease witnessed during the previous century. This column reviews the fall in infectious mortality in US cities across regions and racial groups. It finds that southern cities had the highest rate of death from infectious disease in every year from 1900 to 1948, primarily because southern cities were populated by greater proportions of black residents, who suffered extreme risks from infectious disease in cities in all regions. 

Cecile Gaubert, 14 November 2018

In order to encourage economic growth and development, governments often put in place a range of policies aimed at attracting firms to specific areas of a country. Yet relatively little is known about their implications for efficiency.This column argues that such subsidies have costly long-run effects, both on the productive efficiency of the economy and in terms of welfare. Moreover, place-based policies do not necessarily decrease spatial disparities. 

Stephan Brunow, Antonia Birkeneder, Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, 21 July 2018

Research is increasingly pointing to the rising concentration of creative and science-oriented workers as the basic force for making cities, and large cities in particular, the contemporary motors of innovation. This column examines whether this is the case in Germany. The results suggest that creative workers’ innovation is constrained to the boundaries of the firm, while science-based workers generate considerable innovation spillovers. Policies to generate innovation in Germany are likely to yield greater returns by focusing on ‘geeks’ rather than ‘creatives’, and innovation policy should look beyond the largest cities to a broader range of territories that have proven attractive to ‘geeks’.  

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