How Far Do England’s Second-Order Cities Emulate London as Human-Capital ‘Escalators’?
In the urban resurgence accompanying the growth of the knowledge economy, second-order cities appear to be losing out to the principal city, especially where the latter is much larger and benefits from substantially greater agglomeration economies. The view that any city can make itself attractive to creative talent seems at odds with the idea of a country having just one ‘escalator region’ where the rate of career progression is much faster, especially for in-migrants. This paper takes the case of England, with its highly primate city-size distribution, and tests how its second- order cities (in size order, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Bristol, Sheffield, Liverpool, Nottingham and Leicester) compare with London as human- capital escalators. The analysis is based on the ONS Longitudinal Study of linked census records, primarily for 1991-2001, and uses one key indicator of upward social mobility, the transition from White Collar Non-core to White Collar Core. For non- migrants, the transition rates for all the second-order cities are found to fall well short of London’s. In only one case – Manchester – is the rate significantly higher than the average for other areas outside the Greater South East (GSE) and its performance is matched by the non-London part of the GSE. Those moving to the second-order cities during the decade experienced much stronger upward social mobility than their non-migrants. This ‘migrant premium’ was generally similar to that for London, suggesting that it results from people moving only after they have secured a better job. If so, second-order cities cannot rely on the speculative migration of talented people but need suitable jobs ready for them to access.
21 March 2013 Paper Number SERCDP0132
This SERC/Urban and Spatial Programme Discussion Paper is published under the centre's Urban programme.