Rémi Jedwab, Jason M. Barr, Jan K. Brueckner, 28 February 2021

Housing prices in many countries are growing faster than incomes. Much of this affordability problem can be explained by regulatory barriers to new construction. This column calculates countries’ ‘building-height gaps’ – the difference between the total height of a country’s stock of tall buildings and what the total height would have been if building height regulations were relatively less stringent, based on parameters from a benchmark set of countries. These gaps are larger for richer countries and for residential buildings rather than for commercial buildings, and they correlate strongly with housing prices, sprawl, congestion, and pollution. 

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.

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.

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. 

Klaus Desmet, Dávid Krisztián Nagy, Dzhamilya Nigmatulina, Nathaniel Young, 04 February 2019

The economic geography of transition economies has changed dramatically over the last quarter century, with large urban areas growing fast and many smaller places facing declining populations. Using a high-resolution spatial growth model, this column projects the transition economies as a whole to perform economically well over the next decades, especially the region’s densest places. Large-scale infrastructure projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative will have a positive impact, but not more so than modest reductions of general trade frictions. 

Wolfgang Dauth, Sebastian Findeisen, Enrico Moretti, Jens Südekum, 06 January 2019

Large internal wage disparities between cities are a common feature in countries around the world. Using data from Germany, this column argues that one key driver of this is rising assortative matching of high-quality workers and plants in large cities. One promising strategy to reduce spatial wage disparities is to improve matching within small cities.

Alexandra L. Cermeño, Kerstin Enflo, 03 January 2019

Urban growth is crucial for modernisation, and the wave of new towns in China since the 1980s is one example of a strategy employed by policymakers to encourage the process. This column analyses the long-run success of a town foundation policy in Sweden between 1570 and 1810. While the ‘artificially’ created towns failed to grow in the short term, they eventually began to grow and thrive, and today are as resilient as their medieval counterparts. 

Tommaso Porzio, 12 August 2018

The share of the population employed in agriculture across the globe declined steeply over the second half of the 20thcentury. This coincided with an unprecedented increase in average years of schooling. This column explores whether these two trends are related. The results lend support to the idea that increased schooling led more workers to sort out of agricultural work. Whether reallocation out of agriculture has been beneficial for growth, however, remains to be seen.  

Susanne Frick, Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, 14 February 2018

Urban concentration is typically deemed to lead to greater national economic growth. This column challenges this view, using an original dataset covering 68 countries over the past three decades. Urban concentration levels have decreased or remained stable on average, though these averages hide widely diverging trends across countries. Although concentration has been beneficial for high-income countries, this hasn’t been the case for for developing countries.

David Miles, 07 February 2018

Over recent decades houses have become increasingly expensive in the UK, leading to what is routinely described as a ‘housing crisis’. This column assesses whether, over the long term, the UK experience is so unusual and explores the underlying forces at work. Two key elasticities and one technological factor are highlighted as being central to the story and will determine what happens over the next 50 years.

Susanne Frick, Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, 20 October 2017

Big cities have historically been seen as an important prerequisite for a country’s economic growth. In recent decades, however, developing countries have rapidly urbanised, and large cities are increasingly found in relatively poor countries. This column uses a new dataset to revisit the relationship between city size and economic growth. It finds that relatively small cities (with populations under three million) have been more conducive to economic growth, while very large cities are only growth-enhancing in countries with a very large urban population.

Sandra Sequeira, Nathan Nunn, Nancy Qian, 17 May 2017

Recent empirical studies of the effects of immigration have tended to focus on short-run outcomes. This column considers the longer run by examining how mass migration at the turn of the 20th century has affected US outcomes today. Higher historical immigration between 1860 and 1920 is found to result in significantly better social and economic outcomes today. The results suggest that the long-run benefits of immigration can be large, can persist across time, and need not come at a high social cost.

Ravi Kanbur, Yue Wang, Xiaobo Zhang, 15 March 2017

Sharply increasing inequality became an integral part of the narrative on Chinese development since the beginning of the reform process in 1978. Over the past decade, however, many studies have argued that inequality has been plateauing, or even declining. This column uses several datasets, including household surveys and regional-level government statistics, to show evidence of a mitigation of inequality in the early 21st century, and indeed, declining rates over recent years. Possible drivers of this turnaround are urbanisation, transfer and regulation regimes, and tightening rural labour markets.  

Rémi Jedwab, Edward Kerby, Alexander Moradi, 02 March 2017

At the turn of the 19th century, sub-Saharan Africa was the least urbanised region in the world, with only about 50 cities of more than 10,000 inhabitants. By 2010, the number of cities had increased to almost 3,000. This column, taken from a recent VoxEU eBook, explores how colonial railroad investments transformed Africa’s economic geography, and asks whether economic outcomes would have been different and development delayed without the railroads.

Girum Abebe, Stefano Caria, Marcel Fafchamps, Paolo Falco, Simon Franklin, Simon Quinn, 09 December 2016

Youth unemployment is a growing problem around the world, particularly in urban areas. This column assesses the impact of labour market interventions in Addis Ababa targeting two issues commonly faced by unemployed youth: job search costs and a poor ability to signal their skills. A transport subsidy and a job application workshop were both found to have significant positive effects on youth labour market outcomes, pointing to the important role policymakers can play in helping young people find satisfying employment.

Hisamitsu Saito, Toshiyuki Matsuura, 25 November 2016

Agglomeration’s impact on product quality has received much less attention than its impact on productivity, despite the importance of quality as a precondition for economic development. This column employs plant-product-level data from Japanese manufacturing to assess the effects of urban agglomeration on product quality. The findings suggest that state and municipal tax breaks, and other public efforts to attract enterprises, enhance economic competitiveness by improving product quality along with productivity.

Edward Glaeser, 19 October 2016

There is strong correlation between cities and wealth. In this video, Edward Glaeser explains why cities and urbanisation foster prosperity and development. This video was recorded at the International Growth Centre.

Gilles Duranton, Ejaz Ghani, Arti Grover Goswami, William Kerr, 27 May 2016

Optimising the allocation of factors of production improves productivity. In India, where evidence suggests land is severely misallocated to inefficient manufacturing firms, access to financing is disproportionately tied to access to land. This column examines the link between the misallocation of land and access to capital through financial markets. A very strong positive correlation emerges between the two, consistent with the fact that land and buildings can provide strong collateral support for accessing finance from the credit market.

Gaurav Datt, Martin Ravallion, Rinku Murgai, 26 March 2016

There has been much debate about the poverty impacts of economic growth and structural transformation in developing countries. This column revisits these issues using a newly constructed dataset of poverty measures for India spanning 60 years. There has been a downward trend in poverty measures since 1970, with an acceleration post-1991, despite rising inequality. Post-1991 data suggest stronger inter-sectoral linkages. Urban consumption growth came with gains to both the rural and urban poor. The primary/secondary/tertiary composition of growth has ceased to matter, as all three sectors contributed to poverty reduction.

Kristian Behrens, Frédéric Robert-Nicoud, 24 July 2014

Large cities are more unequal than the nations that host them. This column argues that this is because large cities disproportionately reward talented superstars and disproportionately ‘fail’ the least talented. Cities should thus be the primary focus of policies to reduce inequality and its adverse consequences for society.


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