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Survival of the Fittest in Cities: Agglomeration, Polarization, and Income Inequality

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  • Kristian Behrens
  • Frédéric Robert-Nicoud

Abstract

Using a large sample of US urban areas, we provide systematic evidence that mean household income rises with city ('agglomeration'), that this effect is stronger for the top of the income distribution ('polarization'), and that household income inequality increases at a decreasing rate in city size ('inequality'). To account simultaneously for these facts, we develop a microfounded model of endogenous city formation in which urban centres select the most productive agents. Income inequality is driven by both the 'poverty' and the 'superstar' margins: whereas the least productive agents fail in a tougher urban environment, which increases 'poverty', the most productive agents become 'superstars' who reap the benefits from a larger urban market. At equilibrium, the returns to skills are increasing in city size, thereby dilating the income distribution. Our model is both rich and tractable enough to allow for a detailed investigation of when cities emerge, what determines their size, how they interact through the channels of trade, and how inter-city trade influences intra-city income inequality.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by CIRPEE in its series Cahiers de recherche with number 0919.

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Date of creation: 2009
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Handle: RePEc:lvl:lacicr:0919

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Keywords: City size; agglomeration; income inequality; heterogeneity; firm selection;

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References

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  1. Kristian Behrens & Frédéric Robert-Nicoud, 2008. "Survival of the fittest in cities: agglomeration, selection, and polarisation," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 28506, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
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  8. Rosenthal, Stuart S. & Strange, William C., 2004. "Evidence on the nature and sources of agglomeration economies," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, in: J. V. Henderson & J. F. Thisse (ed.), Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 49, pages 2119-2171 Elsevier.
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  24. Nord, Stephen, 1980. "Income Inequality and City Size: An Examination of Alternative Hypotheses for Large and Small Cities," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 62(4), pages 502-08, November.
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Cited by:
  1. Combes, Pierre-Philippe & Duranton, Gilles & Gobillon, Laurent & Roux, Sébastien, 2012. "Sorting and local wage and skill distributions in France," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(6), pages 913-930.
  2. Behrens, Kristian & Duranton, Gilles & Robert-Nicoud, Frédéric, 2010. "Productive cities: Sorting, selection and agglomeration," CEPR Discussion Papers 7922, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

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