Where youth live: Economic effects of urban space on employment prospects

Katherine M. O'Regan, John M. Quigley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper synthesises a series of empirical analyses investigating the role of urban space in affecting minority employment outcomes. It broadens the focus beyond transport and the 'friction of space' and expands the data available for spatial research. The empirical analyses share a common framework linking 'access' to youth labour market performance. The first set of results is based on aggregate data relating access to employment outcomes for black youth at the metropolitan level. Access is broadly defined to include traditional measures of geographical distance, as well as measures of social isolation or social access. Metropolitan areas in which the black poor are more spatially isolated are also found to have higher black youth unemployment rates. The second body of evidence relies on the same type of metropolitan measures, combined with individual data on youth living with at least one parent. When individual and family characteristics are controlled for, and white and Hispanic youth are also considered, metropolitan measures of social access exert distinguishable effects upon youth employment - youth living in urban areas in which they have less residential contact with whites or the non-poor are less likely to be employed. The final piece of analysis links the individual records of such youth to tract-level measures of access, both social (neighbourhood composition variables) and geographical (job-access measures). This is accomplished through the creation of a unique data set at the Bureau of the Census. Again, after controlling for individual and family characteristics, the residential conditions of youth affect their employment. Ceteris paribus, youth living in census tracts with fewer employed adults, with fewer whites, and which are further from jobs are less likely to be employed. Results suggest that the overall effects of space on employment outcomes are substantial, explaining 10-40 per cent of the observed racial differences in employment in four urban areas examined. Of this 'spatial' effect, the bulk arises from social/informational measures; job access appears to play a much smaller role. However, when measured more precisely, at the census-tract level, job access does have a significant effect on youth employment. This effect is less important than other spatial influences. Spatial influences are less important in explaining outcomes than are differences in human capital.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1187-1205
Number of pages19
JournalUrban Studies
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jun 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Urban Studies


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