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Working Paper

IT and Urban Polarization

We show that differential IT investment across cities has been a key driver of job and wage polarization since the 1980s. Using a novel data set, we establish two stylized facts: IT investment is highest in firms in large and expensive cities, and the decline in routine cognitive occupations is most prevalent in large and expensive cities. To explain these facts, we propose a model mechanism where the substitution of routine workers by IT leads to higher IT adoption in large cities due to a higher cost of living and higher wages. We estimate the spatial equilibrium model to trace out the effects of IT on the labor market between 1990 and 2015. We find that the fall in IT prices explains 50 percent of the rising wage gap between routine and non-routine cognitive jobs. The decline in IT prices also accounts for 28 percent of the shift in employment away from routine cognitive towards non-routine cognitive jobs. Moreover, our estimates show that the impact of IT is uneven across space. Expensive locations have seen a stronger displacement of routine cognitive jobs and a larger widening of the wage gap between routine and non-routine cognitive jobs.

Working Papers of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland are preliminary materials circulated to stimulate discussion and critical comment on research in progress. They may not have been subject to the formal editorial review accorded official Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland publications. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland or the Federal Reserve System.

Suggested Citation

Eeckhout, Jan, Christoph Hedtrich, and Roberto B. Pinheiro. 2021. “IT and Urban Polarization.” Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Working Paper No. 21-18.