Urbanization in the United States, 1800-2000

40 Pages Posted: 11 May 2013 Last revised: 10 Jan 2022

See all articles by Leah Platt Boustan

Leah Platt Boustan

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Department of Economics

devin michelle bunten


Owen Hearey

Analysis Group

Date Written: May 2013


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

Boustan, Leah Platt and bunten, devin michelle and Hearey, Owen, Urbanization in the United States, 1800-2000 (May 2013). NBER Working Paper No. w19041, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2263624

Leah Platt Boustan (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Department of Economics ( email )

Box 951477
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1477
United States

Devin michelle Bunten


77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.devinbunten.com

Owen Hearey

Analysis Group ( email )

333 South Hope Street, 27th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90071
United States
2138964500 (Phone)

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