IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this article

The Area and Population of Cities: New Insights from a Different Perspective on Cities

  • Hernán D. Rozenfeld
  • Diego Rybski
  • Xavier Gabaix
  • Hernán A. Makse

The distribution of city populations has attracted much attention, in part because it constrains models of local growth. However, there is no consensus on the distribution below the very upper tail, because available data need to rely on "legal" rather than "economic" definitions for medium and small cities. To remedy this difficulty, we construct cities "from the bottom up" by clustering populated areas obtained from high-resolution data. We find that Zipf's law for population holds for cities as small as 5,000 inhabitants in Great Britain and 12,000 inhabitants in the US. We also find a Zipf's law for areas. JEL: R11, R12, R23

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to AEA members and institutional subscribers.

File URL:
File Function: dataset accompanying article
Download Restriction: no

As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 101 (2011)
Issue (Month): 5 (August)
Pages: 2205-25

in new window

Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:101:y:2011:i:5:p:2205-25
Contact details of provider: Web page:

More information through EDIRC

Order Information: Web:

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Glaeser, Edward Ludwig & Kallal, Hedi D. & Scheinkman, Jose A. & Shleifer, Andrei, 1992. "Growth in Cities," Scholarly Articles 3451309, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  2. Gilles Duranton & Henry Overman, 2002. "Testing for Localisation Using Micro-Geographic Data," CEP Discussion Papers dp0540, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  3. Xavier Gabaix, 1999. "Zipf's Law and the Growth of Cities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 129-132, May.
  4. Gabaix, Xavier & Ioannides, Yannis M., 2004. "The evolution of city size distributions," 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 53, pages 2341-2378 Elsevier.
  5. Robert E. Hall & Charles I. Jones, . "The Productivity of Nations," Working Papers 96012, Stanford University, Department of Economics.
  6. Kwok Tong Soo, 2004. "Zipfs Law for Cities: A Cross Country Investigation," CEP Discussion Papers dp0641, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  7. Michaels, Guy & Rauch, Ferdinand & Redding, Stephen J., 2008. "Urbanization and Structural Transformation," CEPR Discussion Papers 7016, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  8. Duranton, Gilles, 2006. "Some foundations for Zipf's law: Product proliferation and local spillovers," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(4), pages 542-563, July.
  9. Jonathan Eaton & Zvi Eckstein, 1994. "Cities and Growth: Theory and Evidence from france and Japan," Boston University - Institute for Economic Development 36, Boston University, Institute for Economic Development.
  10. Donald R. Davis & David E. Weinstein, 2001. "Bones, Bombs and Break Points: The Geography of Economic Activity," NBER Working Papers 8517, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Edward L. Glaeser & Jose A. Scheinkman & Andrei Shleifer, 1995. "Economic Growth in a Cross-Section of Cities," NBER Working Papers 5013, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh & Pierre-Olivier Weill, 2006. "Why Has House Price Dispersion Gone Up?," NBER Working Papers 12538, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Brakman,Steven & Garretsen,Harry & van Marrewijk,Charles, 2009. "The New Introduction to Geographical Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521875325, November.
  14. Xavier Gabaix & Rustam Ibragimov, 2007. "Rank-1/2: A Simple Way to Improve the OLS Estimation of Tail Exponents," NBER Technical Working Papers 0342, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Esteban Rossi-Hansberg & Mark L. J. Wright, 2006. "Urban structure and growth," Staff Report 381, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  16. repec:hoo:wpaper:e-95-4 is not listed on IDEAS
  17. Xavier Gabaix, 2008. "Power Laws in Economics and Finance," NBER Working Papers 14299, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Ciccone, Antonio & Hall, Robert E, 1996. "Productivity and the Density of Economic Activity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(1), pages 54-70, March.
  19. Kevin A. Bryan & Brian D. Minton & Pierre-Daniel G. Sarte, 2007. "The evolution of city population density in the United States," Economic Quarterly, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, issue Fall, pages 341-360.
  20. Xavier Gabaix, 1999. "Zipf's Law for Cities: An Explanation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 739-767.
  21. Marcy Burchfield & Henry G. Overman & Diego Puga & Matthew A. Turner, 2006. "Causes of Sprawl: A Portrait from Space," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(2), pages 587-633.
  22. Robert E. Lucas & Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, 2002. "On the Internal Structure of Cities," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(4), pages 1445-1476, July.
  23. Yannis M. Ioannides & Spyros Skouras, 2009. "Gibrat's Law for (All) Cities: A Rejoinder," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 0740, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
  24. Hernán D. Rozenfeld & Diego Rybski & Xavier Gabaix & Hernán A. Makse, 2009. "The Area and Population of Cities: New Insights from a Different Perspective on Cities," NBER Working Papers 15409, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  25. Julian D. Marshall, 2007. "Urban Land Area and Population Growth: A New Scaling Relationship for Metropolitan Expansion," Urban Studies, Urban Studies Journal Limited, vol. 44(10), pages 1889-1904, September.
  26. Andersson, Claes & Hellervik, Alexander & Lindgren, Kristian, 2005. "A spatial network explanation for a hierarchy of urban power laws," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 345(1), pages 227-244.
  27. Thomas J. Holmes & Sanghoon Lee, 2010. "Cities as Six-by-Six-Mile Squares: Zipf's Law?," NBER Chapters, in: Agglomeration Economics, pages 105-131 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  28. Gilles Duranton, 2007. "Urban Evolutions: The Fast, the Slow, and the Still," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(1), pages 197-221, March.
  29. Erzo G. J. Luttmer, 2007. "Selection, Growth, and the Size Distribution of Firms," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(3), pages 1103-1144.
  30. Edward L. Glaeser, 1998. "Are Cities Dying?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(2), pages 139-160, Spring.
  31. Tomoya Mori & Koji Nishikimi & Tony E. Smith, 2008. "The Number-Average Size Rule: A New Empirical Relationship Between Industrial Location And City Size," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 48(1), pages 165-211.
  32. Jan Eeckhout, 2009. "Gibrat's Law for (All) Cities: Reply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(4), pages 1676-83, September.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is featured on the following reading lists or Wikipedia pages:

  1. The Area and Population of Cities: New Insights from a Different Perspective on Cities (AER 2011) in ReplicationWiki

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:101:y:2011:i:5:p:2205-25. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Jane Voros)

or (Michael P. Albert)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.