Cities of Workers, Children or Seniors? Age Structure and Economic Growth in a Global Cross-Section of Cities

August 2019

Remi Jedwab, Daniel Pereira, and Mark Roberts

IIEP working paper 2019-13

Abstract: A large literature documents the positive influence of a city’s skill structure on its rate of economic growth. By contrast, the effect of a city’s age structure on its economic growth has been a hitherto largely neglected area of research. We hypothesize that cities with more working-age adults are likely to grow faster than cities with more children or seniors and set out the potential channels through which such differential growth may occur. Using data from a variety of historical and contemporary sources, we show that there exists marked variation in the age structure of the world’s largest cities, both across cities and over time. We then study how age structure affects economic growth for a global cross-section of mega-cities. Using various identification strategies, we find that mega-cities with higher dependency ratios – i.e. with more children and/or seniors per working-age adult – grow significantly slower. Such effects are particularly pronounced for cities with high shares of children. This result appears to be mainly driven by the direct negative effects of a higher dependency ratio on the size of the working-age population and the indirect effects on work hours and productivity for working age adults within a city.

JEL: R10; R11; R19; J11; J13; J14; O11; N30

Keywords: Urbanization; Cities; Age Structure; Dependency Ratios; Children; Ageing; Demographic Cycles; Agglomeration Effects; Human Capital; Growth; Development

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