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Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal ran an article titled “More Young Stay Put in the Biggest Cities.” Drawing on an analysis of census figures, it noted that between 2004 and 2007, “before the recession, an average of about 50,000 adults aged 25 to 34 left both the New York and Los Angeles metro areas annually, after accounting for new arrivals.” But this turnover of young people diminished after the recession. “Fewer than 23,000 young adults left New York annually between 2010 and 2013. Only about 12,000 left Los Angeles—a drop of nearly 80% from before the recession. Chicago’s departures dropped about 60%.”

The article cites a demographer at the Brookings Institution who believes that young people may now be stuck in the cities for economic reasons: They are having more trouble getting their careers (and families) started, establishing a credit rating good enough to snag a mortgage on a suburban house, and paying off student debt. I agree that these factors are true for a lot of young people, but I also wonder why the demographer and the writer of the article did not consider another possible factor: that urban life may simply have become more attractive to young people.

The article does acknowledge one reason why young people flock to the cities: “In tough times, finding well-paying jobs may be easier in big cities, offsetting their relatively high costs of living.” Actually, there is a longstanding trend of college graduates concentrating in cities. One economist traced this trend from 1980 to 2000, so it is not just the result of temporary economic stress. As the percentage of young people with bachelor’s degrees keeps increasing, we should expect a greater percentage of young urban arrivals to make their permanent homes there.

And cities have other attractions besides job opportunities that might make young people less eager to leave. The crime rate in most large cities has plunged in recent years. Young people are showing diminishing interest in owning automobiles, a necessity of suburban life. And popular culture has changed the image of cities from the gritty and drab environment of “The Honeymooners” to the glamorous setting of “Sex and the City.”

You may be interested in which particular occupations are concentrated in cities. As it happens, in my recent book Your Guide to High-Paying Careers, I include a relevant list. Here’s how I created it: First, I identified the 38 largest metropolitan areas out of all 380 metro areas for which the BLS reports workforce size. For each of the high-paying occupations in the book (those with a median income greater than the 75th percentile for all salaried workers), I summed the number of workers employed in these 38 metro areas and then divided it by the total number of workers in that same occupation throughout the United States. This yielded a figure I call the “urban percentage.”

I thought it would be interesting to see how much better the wages for these occupations are in large cities than in the country as a whole. To do this, I computed the weighted average of the median earnings in the 38 largest metropolitan areas. (In a weighted average, the pay in each city is given a weight proportionate to the number of workers in that city.)

Understand that this single figure for the urban wage conceals the variation that may often be found among different regions. For example, look at the first occupation on the list: Agents and Business Managers of Artists, Performers, and Athletes. You’ll note that for this occupation (as for all the others on this list), the figure for average urban earnings is higher than the figure for the national average. No surprise here: Pay tends to be higher in big cities, partly to offset the higher costs of living there. But for the best pay, you may want to look for work in a particular city where your targeted industry has a large presence. This occupation earns an average of $103,380 in Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA, the urban area that includes Hollywood, whereas it averages only $28,460 in Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL.

Here are the 20 high-paying occupations with the highest concentration in cities:

Urban Percentage
Urban Earnings
Nationwide Earnings
Agents and Business Managers of Artists, Performers, and Athletes
Art Directors
Multimedia Artists and Animators
Producers and Directors
Software Developers, Applications
Financial Analysts
Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists
Sales Engineers
Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents
Marketing Managers
Software Developers, Systems Software
Computer and Information Systems Managers
Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists
Architects, Except Landscape and Naval
Computer Systems Analysts
Advertising and Promotions Managers
Financial Examiners
Operations Research Analysts

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