Discussion paper

DP12001 Who gets the urban surplus?

High productivity in cities creates an economic surplus relative to other areas. How is this divided between workers and land-owners? Simple models with homogenous labour suggest that it accrues largely – or entirely – in the form of land-rents. This paper shows that heterogeneity of labour in two main dimensions (productivity differentials and housing demands) radically changes this result. Even a modest amount of heterogeneity can drive the land share of surplus down to 2/3rds or lower, as high productivity and/or low housing demand individuals receive large utility gains. In a system of cities the sorting of workers across cities mean that the land-rent share of surplus is lowest in the largest and most productive cities.


Venables, A and P Collier (2017), ‘DP12001 Who gets the urban surplus? ‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 12001. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp12001