Published on Jobs and Development

What we’ve been reading: Jobs and spatial economics

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A township in Johannesburg. Photo: John Hogg/ The World Bank A township in Johannesburg. Photo: John Hogg/ The World Bank

This blog is based on the November 2020 edition of the Knowledge4Jobs newsletter, curated by the World Bank’s Jobs Group and Labor and Skills Global Solutions Group. Click here to sign up for the Knowledge4Jobs newsletter.

Well-functioning cities bring people together. Physical proximity enables social and economic interactions. This is the hallmark of city life, making people more productive and creating demand for more and better jobs.

The COVID-19 pandemic is putting the brakes on urban economies and highlighting the downsides of urban density. The pandemic will have spatially differentiated impacts on jobs within countries.  How large metropolitan areas, secondary cities, and small towns fare will depend on local economic dynamics, driven by sectoral composition and the nature of jobs. The challenge is exacerbated by the dynamics of working in the informal sector, often in crowded places with no social protection.

While the spatially differentiated nature of the jobs challenge has been highlighted by COVID-19, the patterns have been shaped by larger forces  that include automation, geographically localized trade shocks, stymied structural transformation of countries, and the slow pace of domestic labor mobility within countries.

The publications and readings recommended this month provide a broader perspective on the spatially differentiated nature of the jobs and development challenge. 


Jobs and Spatial Transformation


Essential Readings

  • How do we define cities, towns, and rural areas? Standardizing classifications and applying them at the global level can help measure the effectiveness of policies in different countries, this World Bank blog says.
  • Economists used spatially disaggregated data for London from 1801 to 1921 to show that the invention of the steam railway led to the first large-scale separation of workplace and residence.
  • In developing regions, urbanization appears to be concentrated in “consumption cities” for countries that are heavily dependent on resource exports and “production cities” for countries that have industrialized and are more dependent on manufacturing.
  • High pre‐colonial density areas tend to be denser today due to locational fundamentals and agglomeration effects, according to this piece in The Economic Journal.
  • Countries that developed earlier are more spatially equal in their distribution of education and economic activity than late developers.
  • From the National Bureau of Economic Research: A review of the literature on place-based policies in the contexts of transport improvements, economic corridors, special economic zones, lagging regions, and urban policies.


Broader Jobs Agenda


COVID-19 Related Articles


Somik Lall

Senior Adviser to the Chief Economist of the World Bank Group

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