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TAUBMAN CENTER POLICY BRIEFS P B 2 0 0 7 5 M a y 2 0 0 7 The Rise of the Sunbelt By Edward L Glaeser Harvard University and Kristina Tobio Kennedy School of Government Introduction In the 1930s the eleven Southern states of the old Confederacy seemed trapped in the cycle of poverty and decline that had characterized the region since the Civil War Since World War II however the region has become one of the great success stories in America As shown in Figure 1 the South s share of the national population has increased from 24 percent to 30 percent since 1950 From 1950 to 2000 average income in the South increased from 76 percent of the national average to 94 percent of the national average while housing prices rose from 83 percent to 91 percent of the national average The tremendous growth of the South re ects a nationwide correlation between warmth and growth throughout the postwar period Figure 2 shows the correlation between January temperatures and population growth from 1950 to 2000 Correlations between January temperatures and income growth as well as January temperatures and housing price growth show a similar pattern While it is clear that the Sunbelt places with warm Januarys and Julys including but not limited to the South has experienced a boom since 1950 it is far from obvious what has been the driving force behind this growth The traditional explanations for the growth are increasing productivity in the South and increasing demand for Sunbelt amenities especially its pleasant weather A third less studied explanation is the Sunbelt s more exible housing supply Our empirical analysis assesses the relative contributions of rising productivity rising demand for Sunbelt amenities and an increasing Sunbelt housing supply to Southern and Sunbelt growth Our results suggest that rising demand for Sunbelt amenities has had little to do with the growth of the Sunbelt while rising productivity and surprisingly increased housing supply have both played important roles in the growth of the South and the Sunbelt Background Theories of Southern and Sunbelt Growth Increasing Productivity The rst hypothesis suggests that Southern growth is due to increases in Southern productivity Economists have suggested several possible explanations for the increasing productivity experienced in the South during the postwar period One theory is that increased capital accumulation such as the construction of factories or purchase of machinery allowed for the South s rapid convergence Edward L Glaeser Edward L Glaeser is the Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics in Harvard s Faculty of Arts and Sciences and is Director of the Kennedy School of Government s Taubman Center for State and Local Government Kristina Tobio Kristina Tobio is a Senior Research Assistant at the Taubman Center for State and Local Government A Alfred Taubman Center for State and Local Government The Taubman Center and its affiliated institutes and programs are the Kennedy School of Government s focal point for activities that address urban policy state and local governance and intergovernmental relations Taubman Center Policy Briefs are short overviews of new and notable research on these issues by scholars affiliated with the Center 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College The contents reflect the views of the authors who are responsible for the facts and accuracy of the material herein and do not represent the official views or policies of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government A Alfred Taubman Center for State and Local Government John F Kennedy School of Government 79 JFK St Cambridge MA 02138 Telephone 617 495 2199 Email taubman ksg harvard edu www ksg harvard edu taubmancenter The Rise of the Sunbelt TAUBMAN CENTER POLIC Y BRIEFS Figure 1 Population Income and Housing Values in the South Versus the Entire United States 1950 2000 Notes Population data from the Census at http www census gov population censusdata urbanpop0090 txt and factfinder census gov Housing value and income ratios from historical U S Census County Data Books found in Haines Michael R Inter university Consortium for Political and Social Research 2005 02 25 Historical Demographic Economic and Social Data The United States 1790 2000 hdl 1902 2 02896 http id thedata org hdl 3A1902 2 2F02896 Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research distributor9DDI with more developed regions in the North Another possible explanation is the South s structural transformation from agriculture to manufacturing Additionally decreasing transportation costs may have contributed by making the Northern advantages of superior waterways and railroads irrelevant Finally changing political institutions particularly the decline in Jim Crow politics may also have helped increase productivity as politicians began to concentrate on attracting industry rather than maintaining racist policies Increasing Demand for Amenities The second hypothesis suggests that Southern and Sunbelt growth is due to an increasing demand for the amenities such as mild winters that these places provide Southern cities were relatively unpleasant places to live in the early 1900s Summer heat was oppressive and contributed signi cantly to the spread of infectious disease The problem was exacerbated by the South lagging behind the North in its access to clean water However by 1950 there were a number of changes that could have signi cantly increased the amenities of warm regions Most signi cantly improvements in public health and water puri cation mitigated disease and the development of air conditioning made the heat much more tolerable Thus some economists argue that improvements in Southern consumer amenities made the South a more attractive place to live thus driving the South s population growth Similarly other warm places outside the South provide sun related amenities Using amenities to explain growth in some areas of the Sunbelt such as California with its pleasant winters seems intuitive Los Angeles became a great city because of its weather Its great industries such as movies and aerospace were led by early migrants like D W Grif th and 2 TAUBMAN CENTER The Rise of the Sunbelt POLIC Y BRIEFS Figure 2 Population Growth 1950 2000 and January Temperature Mean January Temperature Donald Douglas who moved there because they liked its Mediterranean climate But the growth of the Sunbelt today is no longer led by the temperate areas on the California coast Since the


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