The economic rationale for a city is that commerce just works better when people are close together. Hiring and firing is more efficient; so is the exchange of ideas. It’s believed that educated workers benefit the most from living and working next to each other, and so studying them is one way to better understand how cities develop.

(Check out Jim Tankersley‘s piece on how one manufacturing firm chose to build its factory in high-priced Brooklyn for this very reason.)  

Economists Edward Glaeser and Matthew Resseger observe, for instance, that there is a strong relationship between population size and worker productivity — but only in cities where educated workers dominate. They find no such relationship among cities with fewer educated workers.


Source: Edward L. Glaeser and Matthew G. Resseger, “The Complementarity between Cities and Skills”

Source: Edward L. Glaeser and Matthew G. Resseger, “The Complementarity between Cities and Skills”

Skilled workers, they conclude, seem to feed off each other, making each other more efficient and better at their jobs, while the same can’t be said of less-skilled workers.

A certain density of educated workers also makes a place attractive for businesses, which create jobs that attract more talented people, and so forth. So it’s not hard to see why cities fret over talent, which tends to go hand-in-hand with growth and prosperity.

Here we have a list of the top 25 metro areas, ranked by the size of the adult population, and how well they’ve done at bringing in college-educated workers since 2007.

New York, of course, is the powerhouse, having added nearly 750,000 college graduates between 2007 and 2012. But taken in percentage terms, New York’s growth seems merely average.

Denver, Seattle and Houston each increased its number of college graduates by around 20 percent between 2007 and 2012. (This is all roughly speaking, as these numbers are taken from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and are a little fuzzy and may be off by a couple percentage points either way.)

Other cities have struggled. Boston and Atlanta each only added around 100,000 college grads in that time. San Francisco, which is a similar size, added 300,000 grads — a reflection of how much of a talent magnet Silicon Valley has become. San Francisco is now essentially tied with Boston as the most-educated large city in the nation other than Washington, D.C., where a whopping 65 percent of adults have at least a four-year college degree.

But this is where we turn the tables on you, readers: Does it surprise you where your city fell on this list? Denverites, does your neighborhood feel much brainier these days? Atlantans, what should your city be doing better to attract college grads? Tell us your story.