Economics Department



Divergence and Mobility in College Attainment Across U.S. Labor Market Areas: 1970-2000

Date of this Version



International Regional Science Review 33(4), 397-420.


Human capital is one factor that significantly influences local economic growth. Our goal in this research is to analyze trends in local human capital dynamics during the past thirty years. The authors find little evidence of convergence in college attainment across metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas and evidence of divergence across Census regions. The authors also find within-distribution divergence for all labor markets, as well as for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas, which is accompanied by lower levels of intra-distributional mobility than we observe for the income distribution. To the extent that human capital accumulation drives growth, these trends are likely to contribute to increasingly different levels of income growth across labor markets in the future. Finally, looking at factors that influence upward mobility within the distribution, the authors find that an increase in the number of four-year colleges and universities per capita increased a labor market’s upward rank and quintile mobility in human capital.