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IV. Descriptive Results

As shown in Figure 1 below, the share of both total population and total employment in outlying counties of metropolitan areas has increased over the 12-year period. During this period, the percentage of the population residing in outlying counties increased from less than 9 percent to about ten percent. The percentage of dispersal outside central counties is relatively low but also climbed during this period -- increasing from about 6.2 percent in 1985 to about 7.3 percent overall by 1997.


Figure 2 shows the share of employment in outlying counties for four industries defined using one-digit Standard Industrial Classification codes. Nationwide, manufacturing and FIRE (finance, insurance, and real estate) are substantially more dispersed than construction and wholesale employment.


Concurrent with this trend towards decentralization, the average commute distance showed a trend towards increasing distance over time in our sample of AHS respondents (Table 1). The average commute lengthened slightly through this period, though it declined somewhat from 1995 to 1997.

TABLE 1. Commute by Year (AHS sample)

Year Miles
1985 10.7
1991 11.1
1993 11.0
1995 11.9
1997 11.3

There is some variance by Census region, as shown in Table 2. AHS respondents in selected metropolitan areas located in the northeast, northwest, and southern states have a similar average commute length, ranging from 11.2 to 11.5 miles. Those in the western Census region have a shorter commute length.7

TABLE 2. Commute by Region, 1985 to 1997 (AHS sample)

Region Miles
NE 11.2
MW 11.5
South 11.3
West 10.6

It is clear that demographic characteristics play a role in commute length. For example, as shown in Table 3, men have longer commutes than women, and residents of owner-occupied units have longer commutes than renters.

TABLE 3. Commute by Sex and Tenure, 1985 to 1997 (AHS sample)

Sex Miles
Male 12.0
Female 9.7
Tenure Miles
Owner-Occupied 12.4
Renter 9.8


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