Bridging the gap between geographic concept and the data we have: The case of labor markets in the USA

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


A broad literature has made it clear that geographic units must be selected with care or they are likely to introduce error and uncertainty into results. Nevertheless, researchers often use data “off the shelf” with the implicit assumptions that their observations are consistent with the geographical concept relevant for their research question, and that they are of uniformly high quality in capturing this geographic identity. In this paper, we consider the geographical concept of “labor market” and offer a template for both clarifying its meaning for research and testing the suitability of extant labor-market delineations. We establish a set of metrics for comparing the quality of existing labor-market delineations with respect to the diverse meanings that researchers apply to the concept. Using the fit metrics established here, researchers can explore how delineations vary geographically, how they vary over time, and how this variation may shape research outcomes. Our assessment is that the quality of the extant delineations is relatively high overall. However, we find that different delineations vary significantly in the types of labor markets they represent, and that regional variations in fit within any given delineation may introduce noise or regional bias that merits consideration in any analysis conducted with these units. More broadly, the kinds of metrics we propose here have applicability for many other geographic entities where boundaries and scale can be only imperfectly defined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1395-1414
Number of pages20
JournalEnvironment and Planning A
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'Bridging the gap between geographic concept and the data we have: The case of labor markets in the USA'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this