Are Demographic Forces Generating an Urban Revival?: American Cities, 1950-2006

Leah P. Boustan, University of California, Los Angeles
Allison Shertzer, University of California, Los Angeles

The share of metropolitan residents living in the central city has declined continuously since 1950. We show that, if not for a series of demographic factors – notably renewed immigration, a falling share of households with children and a reduction in the number of veterans, many of whom have access to housing benefits – cities would have contracted even further. We provide causal estimates of the relationship between the presence of children or veteran status and living in the central city, relying variously on the occurrence of twins or comparisons between birth cohorts coming of age during and after the mass mobilization for World War II. We conclude that demographic trends were only strong enough to staunch the flow of population from cities, not to generate an urban revival.

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Presented in Session 120: Growth and Decline of Urban Populations