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Which Places Are Growing? Seven Notable Trends from Newly Released Census Data

March 25, 2011
Edward L. Glaeser (Glimp Professor of Economics, Harvard University)

In a new Rappaport Institute/Taubman Center Policy Brief titled Which Places are Growing? Seven Notable Trends From Newly Released Census Data, Edward Glaeser, director of both the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston and the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, identifies seven key facts about county-level population growth that emerge from census data that were released on March 24, 2011. The seven facts are:

  1. Population growth was much higher in counties with higher incomes as of 2000. Americans unsurprisingly moved to areas that deliver higher wages.
  2. January temperature continues to be a strong predictor of population growth. This fact reflects both a natural affinity for warmth, and also the tendency of many Sunbelt areas to have fewer barriers to building.
  3. Population growth was faster near ports. While 19th century Americans populated the American hinterland, 21st century Americans are moving to the country’s periphery.
  4. People are moving to dense areas, but not the densest areas. Despite the decline in transportation costs, people are still disproportionately moving to places that had higher density levels as of 2000, responding to the enormous productivity advantages associated with proximity.
  5. The education level of a county as of 2000 strongly predicts population growth over the last decade. Again, this trend reflects the tendency of skilled areas to generate far higher incomes.
  6. Manufacturing employment predicts lower population growth. While manufacturing has predicted urban decline for decades, the connection between manufacturing and lower levels of growth across all U.S. counties is a more recent phenomenon.
  7. Limits to housing supply that come from either nature or regulation will also limit population growth. The most expensive areas have not grown all that much and the areas that have grown most demonstrably are not that expensive.


Glaeser concludes by noting that while these trends do not dictate any particular public policies or suggest any particular course of action, they should be relevant for policy-makers at both the local and the national level.

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