Are Highly Mobile Tech Workers Making Cities More Unequal?

May 18, 2018

What drives Americans to move cross-country for work and where are they going? A new study out today from the Glassdoor Economic Research team reveals, for the first time, hidden patterns of economic mobility among the millions of online job seekers looking for a job and company they love on Glassdoor.

The study taps a truly unique data set: More than 668,000 online job applications started on Glassdoor during a typical week in January 2018. As one of America’s largest online job and recruiting sites, these data provide a powerful window into where job seekers are located and where they’re applying to jobs in real time.

What’s really unique about this study is our ability to zipper together these online job applications with the nearly 40 million reviews and insights on Glassdoor. From salaries to company reviews and job postings, this rich information about jobs and companies allows us to see what these jobs pay, and what is the company culture at employers attracting these applicants.

Bringing together these datasets, we built a simple statistical model showing what factors drive Americans to move cross-country for work: is it higher pay, better company culture, geographical chance, or something else? And are today’s most mobile job seekers making American cities more or less unequal?

Tech Movers Earn More

One powerful finding from our study is that job seekers who are willing to move for a new role can earn much higher pay on average. That is, those Americans who are most aiming to pick up and move to today’s fast-growing metro areas — including San Francisco, New York, San Jose, Los Angeles and others — are also those earning the highest pay.

The figure below shows the link between pay and economic mobility among job seekers on Glassdoor today. Each dot represents one job title. The horizontal axis shows the percent of job applicants aiming to move to a new metro area in the U.S.. The vertical axis shows pay for the jobs applied to — a clear positive link between higher pay and more geographically mobile job seekers.

Who are these highly paid and highly mobile job applicants? Our data show tech workers are those most on the move. Software engineers, database administrators, software developers, data engineers and data scientists all appear toward the top of list, earning both high median pay and being among the most willing to move between metros for jobs.

Cities Are Getting More Unequal

What does that mean for inequality among cities in America? According to a recent study from BuildZoom, new in-migrants to America’s most expensive cities today have higher incomes than out-migrants. And the opposite is true for less expensive metros. That flow of high-income workers into certain cities is making U.S. cities more polarized — and fueling skyrocketing housing prices in those metros.

We see a similar pattern on Glassdoor. For example, inbound job applications to San Jose are for jobs with average pay of $108,642 per year, while San Jose-based job seekers aiming to leave are applying to jobs earning $95,059 per year, a gap of $13,583 per year among the two groups. We see a similar pattern in San Francisco, Seattle and New York City. This inflow of highly paid workers has fueled rising home prices and cost of living in these fast-growing metros in recent years.

Some cities are seeing the opposite, with inbound job applications for roles that earn much less than those moving away. For example, in Sacramento, inbound job candidates earn an average apply to jobs paying $66,274 per year, while those aiming to leave for jobs elsewhere apply to roles earning much higher pay of $85,881 per year. That’s $19,607 more for leavers. Similarly, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Norfolk, Va. and Kansas City, Mo all have average pay for leavers that’s above average pay for those moving in. That occurrence has helped keep these metros relatively affordable in recent decades.

Cities Gaining Ground: Where Newcomers Are Earning Higher Pay Than Leavers

US. Metro

Mean Salary, Inbound Job Applications

(“Moving In”)

Mean Salary, Outbound Job Applications

(“Moving Out”)

Pay Difference

San Jose, CA




San Francisco, CA




Seattle, WA




New York City, NY




Houston, TX




Cities Losing Ground: Where Newcomers Are Earning Lower Pay Than Leavers

US. Metro

Mean Salary, Inbound Job Applications

(“Moving In”)

Mean Salary, Outbound Job Applications

(“Moving Out”)

Pay Difference

Sacramento, CA




Pittsburgh, PA




Las Vegas, NV




Norfolk, VA




Kansas City, MO




What’s Driving So Many Tech Workers to Move?

Tech workers are the most mobile — and among the most highly paid — workers today. Why do we see a link between high pay and more mobility among tech workers?

It reflects a mixture of both cause and effect: On the one hand, tech jobs tend to offer more money. This higher pay attracts candidates from distant metros, since higher paying roles help justify cross-metro moves. On the other hand, job seekers who are most willing to move also enjoy more bargaining power for jobs — and often highly-paid tech workers are the most mobile of all. Many tech workers are relatively young, educated and can work in any metro area with a broadband internet connection. It’s a geographic freedom that few other occupations enjoy.

Although tech hiring is spreading across the U.S., many of the largest tech employers are still located in just a few, fast-growing metro areas: San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle and New York City. These employers are a magnet for high-paying talent, a strong pull that’s reshaping U.S. cities and changing the talent landscape facing employers in the process. For policymakers, finding ways to assure that workers who aren’t geographically mobile aren’t left behind will be a key challenge in the coming decades.

You can learn more about the patterns we’re seeing among “metro movers” today on Glassdoor in our full study, or see more in our press release.