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Population Distribution and Educational Attainment within MSAs, 1980–2010

Kyle Fee, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, November 2013: “Though most people in the US live in metropolitan areas, they’ve been choosing to live farther and farther from the center of those areas since the 1950s. While that trend continues to this day, there are some dramatic changes. The exodus from the center of town is slowing down quite a bit, for one. For another, those residents who now live in the central city are better educated than they used to be.”

‘Metropolitan areas in the United States have changed dramatically in size and structure over the last half-century. Suburban sprawl and a hollowing out of residential neighborhoods near the traditional urban core have changed the distribution of the population within and around many US cities. This outward movement of the population, so prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s, has continued in recent decades, though some of its features have changed. In particular, the movement away from the city core has slowed down in the last decade, and the educational composition of residents near the urban core has changed strikingly. In this Commentary, I document recent shifts in the distribution of human capital (as measured by educational attainment) within metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) and relate these changes to those areas’ characteristics, including size, congestion, and initial levels of human capital. The data show clearly that the growth rate of college graduates near the central business district has accelerated sharply in the last decade. The same is not true for individuals without a four-year college degree. As a result of these trends, in many metro areas the residents of neighborhoods close to the central business district are now more educated than those in farther-away suburbs.”

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