The Urban Wage Premium in Historical Perspective

with Taylor Jaworski and Carl Kitchens



We estimate causal urban wage premiums from 1940 to present day.


We estimate the urban wage premium in the United States from 1940 to 2010. Drawing on recent advances in the literature on selection on unobservables, we show how to control for heterogeneity in the characteristics of individuals that choose to live in cities to address endogenous sorting. Estimates from naive comparisons of individuals living in urban versus rural areas substantially overstate the urban wage premium. We find that the premium is highest in the middle of the twentieth century (about 12 percent in 1940 and 1950) relative to the early in twenty-first century (declining to a few percent by mid-2020). Overall, the urban wage premium is decreasing and sorting explains a larger fraction of the difference in urban versus rural earnings across our sample period.