Spatial unemployment?


Far from being a matter confined to urbanists, spatial mismatch has crucial consequences on labor outcomes and job opportunities and even more surprised it might be explaining gender differences in the labor market.

New research by Diaz and Morales and Cardona investigates these issues in Colombia, taking its two main cities Bogota and Medellin, as references. To simplify very technical and crafty econometrics, let me say that authors evaluate whether gender disparities in labor outcomes can be at least partially explained by segregation from labor opportunities. Spatial mismatch seems to matter more for women than for men. Proximity to job generation can create the right incentives for women to actively look for a job. Spatial match matters more for low income female workers. Distance from job opportunities is akin to facing more costly job search or higher reservation wages.

In the case of Bogotá, an ill famed city for its traffic, Diaz finds that a reduction in displacement costs to increase proximity to job opportunities by 50%, would expand female labor participation to 51% to 64%, keep male participation around 80%, and boost global participation from 63% to 72%, reducing the gender gap. Therefore, bridging this gap calls for mobility enhancement to be a priority in urban planning, be it through better infrastructure, transportation subsidies, or else. An undesirable consequence of this spatial mismatch is that, faced with more costly job search, women might opt for informality.

Morales and Cardona investigate Medellin neighborhood quality and its effect on employment outcomes. Quality is defined multidimensionally by the availability of mass transportation, the density of economic activity, availability of public child care and crime levels. Neighborhood quality affects labor outcomes of men and women, differently. For example, as to participation, women are significantly affected by the violence and economic activity in their neighborhoods. In contrast, the male labor force participation is negatively affected by violence, but not the economic density. Economic density, which measures economic opportunities, influences female employment outcomes, especially in poor areas.

Higher employment generation opportunities boost labor force participation and hours worked of all women in low-income areas. Higher density of public child care centers increase the likelihood of employment for women in middle and high income neighborhoods, but has a negative effect for women in the poorest neighborhoods. The latter effect, although controversial, may be the result of an excess supply of female labor in poorer neighborhoods. The distance from metro negatively affects the labor force participation of women without children.

Food for thought: telework, adequate urban planning and flexible work schedule.

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