Single men and women with college degrees are generally more likely to move to a big city to pursue job opportunities. Whether a married woman makes this potentially career-enhancing relocation depends largely on if her husband holds a college degree, suggests a study by economists at Washington University in St. Louis.
Between 1970 and 1990 alone, the percentage of power couples living in the nation’s 25 largest cities increased from 39 percent to 50 percent. With more college-educated women entering the workforce, many expected this trend to continue.
In fact, the trend may have begun to reverse itself. Using data from the 2000 Census, Compton and Pollak found that the proportion of power couples residing in large metro areas actually dropped slightly between 1990 and 2000.
The explanation for the changing concentration of power couples in large cities is elusive.
One theory suggests that power couples are relocating to the nation’s largest metro areas as a response to “co-location” pressure, a mutual desire to find one labor market large enough and diverse enough to satisfy the career aspirations of both spouses.
Re-examining this theory in the light of other data, Compton and Pollak found no evidence that the concentration of power couples in big cities could be directly attributed to the pressures of co-location.
Rather, their findings suggest that many big-city power couples are essentially homegrown — that all college-educated individuals (married and unmarried) are attracted to the amenities and high returns on education found in large cities.
Thus, rather than a result of migration, the concentration of power couples in large cities reflects two phenomenon: the formation of power couples either through the marriage of educated singles or through additional education of part-power couples. Both phenomenon are more likely to occur in larger rather than smaller metropolitan areas.
“This reversal of the earlier trend is difficult to explain in terms of co-location pressures but is easy to explain in terms of changes in marriage and educational attainment patterns observed in the data,” Pollak says.