Executive Summary

Problem Description

Present State of Knowledge

Approach and Method

Modeling and Measuring the Information City

Information and Household Mobility in Cities and Metropolitan Areas

Telecommunications, Infrastructure, and the Environment

Information and Telecommunications Technology and Inner-City Communities

Broader Impacts

Dissemination of Research




Research Area #2: Information and Household Mobility in Cities and Metropolitan Areas

As individuals increasingly rely on telephones and email, many observers argue that the need for face-to-face interaction will diminish. Workers and entrepreneurs, especially those engaged in the information-intensive service sector, will be more likely to move to suburban and outlying areas and rely on telecommunications technology. Despite the widely held belief that cities are being made obsolete by improvements in telecommunications, there is in fact very little empirical evidence to support it. NYU Professor Ingrid Ellen, who has conducted research on housing patterns at the neighborhood and metropolitan level, will examine whether there is in fact any evidence to support a growing professional flight from central cities.

The first part of the analysis will document the changing spatial distribution of professional households and address these questions:

  • How much more likely were professional households to live in outlying areas in 1990 than they were in 1970?

  • How much variation do we see in these patterns across metropolitan areas and regions?

  • Could some of this variation be due to differences in telecommunications access and use?

Professor Ellen will then examine data from the Current Population Survey (CPS, March supplement) during the past decade to determine if professional workers are moving more rapidly to outlying areas today than they were 10 years ago. Since professionals are likely to rely more heavily on email and telephones, we would expect improvements in these technologies to affect them more dramatically than non-professionals. Based on an analysis of this data, she will address the following questions:

  • How does the change in the mobility patterns of professionals compare to those of non-professionals?
  • Are professional workers more likely to move?
  • Are professionals more likely to move from central cities?
  • Are professionals more likely to choose outlying areas?
  • Are the patterns different in large and small metropolitan areas?
  • Are any regional patterns evident?

Professor Ellen will also use analytical techniques to determine whether there are any significant differences between households with and without college degrees. And finally, with the CPS collected data on home computer ownership in 1984, 1989, and 1993, Professor Ellen will compare mobility patterns of those owning home computers with those who do not. While owning a computer is not a perfect measure of access to email and the Internet, it is of course a pre-requisite and therefore likely to be a good proxy.

Professor Ellen will also use the metropolitan files of the American Housing Survey to conduct an analysis of intra-metropolitan mobility. The American Housing Survey has identified zones of at least 100,000 people in the 44 metropolitan areas that it surveys. These zones can be classified by demographic characteristics and central city location and can be linked to public services, such as safety and school quality, as well as to the range of telecommunications services available in each zone.

The American Housing Survey (AHS) also contains information on the location of previous residence for households. (In 1985, half of all household heads had moved in since 1979-44 percent from locations within the same metropolitan area.) We will analyze how the mobility patterns of college-educated households compare to the less-educated for a subset of metropolitan areas, with specific emphasis on the following questions:

  • Are college-educated households more likely to move out of central city zones?

  • Are they more likely to choose to move into suburban communities?

By comparing 1985 and 1995 data, we will explore changes in these patterns of household mobility. Since the AHS also gathers information about the reasons for moving, it is possible to analyze these decisions as well, and to learn whether telecommuting is a factor in such decisions.


With support from the National Science Foundation, under the Urban Research Initiative
(C) 1999, 2000, 2001 Taub Urban Research Center, New York University
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