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When talking about reinvigorating innovation in Boston, you sometimes hear that drawing a comparison between Boston and Silicon Valley is in some sense inappropriate. However, when you look formally at the two regions, the basis for comparison is actually very strong.

One difficulty comes from the term “Silicon Valley”, which refers to the technology sector in an informal geographic area. There is no corresponding term that identifies the technology sector around Boston. “Rt 128” was the term used many years ago, but it is obviously not workable today. (In our analysis here, we will continue to use variations on the term “Boston area technology sector”, until a better term comes along, and our analysis will continue to use more formal area designations where available.)

As we saw in previous posts, Silicon Valley is largely contained within Santa Clara County; thus, statistics for Santa Clara can be used as a proxy for Silicon Valley. We also saw that the corresponding county in the Boston Area is Middlesex County. Thus, comparing the two counties provides a valid basis for comparing the respective technology sectors.

We can also compare Boston and San Francisco as more broadly defined regions. A formal regional geographic area that represents this concept is a Combined Statistical Area (CSA) as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and used by the U.S. Census Bureau: “Combined Statistical Areas can be characterized as representing larger regions that reflect broader social and economic interactions, such as wholesaling, commodity distribution, and weekend recreation activities, and are likely to be of considerable interest to regional authorities and the private sector.”

The Boston CSA includes most of eastern Massachusetts plus southern New Hampshire and Rhode Island. The San Francisco CSA includes the counties north and south of San Francisco including Santa Clara County and Silicon Valley.

The table shows selected 2008 data from the Census Bureau for Boston CSA and San Francisco CSA.

2008 Boston CSA San Francisco CSA
Total population 7,514,759  7,354,444 
Population 25 years and over 5,086,671  5,013,980 
  Bachelor’s degree 21.80%  24.70% 
  Graduate or professional degree 15.60%  16.60% 
Population 16 years and over 6,047,131  5,888,844 
  In labor force 69.60%  67.60% 
  Unemployed 4.00%  4.10% 
Median household income (dollars) 66,723  77,247 
Mean earnings (dollars) 90,213  104,526 
Per capita income (dollars) 34,324  39,069 
Households 2,835,304  2,628,007 
  Owner-occupied housing units 64.60%  58.80% 
  Median home value (dollars) 345,000  656,500 

Note that by most measures the two areas are roughly comparable. The two areas have roughly the same total population and same labor force. San Francisco CSA has perhaps surprisingly a slightly higher percentage of population with college degrees and has slightly higher income. Boston CSA has a slightly higher percentage of home ownership, and has significantly lower home prices.

Middlesex County and Santa Clara County continue to represent the highest density of technology sector employment within each respective CSA.


Office of Management and Budget, Bulletin No. 08-01
Update of Statistical Area Definitions and Guidance on Their Uses

U.S. Census Bureau Fact Finder

Table of United States Combined Statistical Areas

3 Responses to “Boston CSA and San Francisco CSA”

  1. […] table from Branko Gerovac’s website, Empirical Reality. The two areas are far more alike, on the statistical level, than I had realized […]

  2. […] table from Branko Gerovac’s website, Empirical Reality compares the technology areas of Massachusetts and Silicon Valley The two areas are far more alike, […]

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