The Rise of the Sunbelt
In the last 50 years, population and incomes have increased steadily throughout much of the Sunbelt. This paper assesses the relative contributions of rising productivity, rising demand for Southern amenities and increases in housing supply to the growth of warm areas, using data on income, housing price and population growth. Before 1980, economic productivity increased significantly in warmer areas and drove the population growth in those places. Since 1980, productivity growth has been more modest, but housing supply growth has been enormous. We infer that new construction in warm regions represents a growth in supply, rather than demand, from the fact that prices are generally falling relative to the rest of the country. The relatively slow pace of housing price growth in the Sunbelt, relative to the rest of the country and relative to income growth, also implies that there has been no increase in the willingness to pay for sun-related amenities. As such, it seems that the growth of the Sunbelt has little to do with the sun.
This paper was written as an invited association lecture for the Southern Economics Association. The Taubman Center for State and Local Government provided generous financial support. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.