Inferring networks of interdependent labor skills to illuminate urban economic structure

Shade T. Shutters, Keith Waters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Cities are among the best examples of complex systems. The adaptive components of a city, such as its people, firms, institutions, and physical structures, form intricate and often non-intuitive interdependencies with one another. These interdependencies can be quantified and represented as links of a network that give visibility to otherwise cryptic structural elements of urban systems. Here, we use aspects of information theory to elucidate the interdependence network among labor skills, illuminating parts of the hidden economic structure of cities. Using pairwise interdependencies we compute an aggregate, skills-based measure of system "tightness" of a city's labor force, capturing the degree of integration or internal connectedness of a city's economy. We find that urban economies with higher tightness tend to be more productive in terms of higher GDP per capita. However, related work has shown that cities with higher system tightness are also more negatively affected by shocks. Thus, our skills-based metric may offer additional insights into a city's resilience. Finally, we demonstrate how viewing the web of interdependent skills as a weighted network can lead to additional insights about cities and their economies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1078
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Cities
  • Co-occurrence
  • Information theory
  • Interdependence
  • Panarchy
  • Regional science
  • Resilience
  • Urban science
  • Workforce

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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