IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/a/bla/jregsc/v61y2021i1p189-211.html
   My bibliography  Save this article

Population, light, and the size distribution of cities

Author

Listed:
  • Christian Düben
  • Melanie Krause

Abstract

We provide new insights on the city size distribution of countries around the world. Using more than 10,000 cities delineated via geospatial data and a globally consistent city identification scheme, we investigate distributional shapes in all countries. In terms of population, we find that Zipf's law holds for many, but not all, countries. Contrasting the distribution of population with the distribution of economic activity, measured by nighttime lights, across cities we shed light on the globally variant magnitude of agglomeration economies. Deviations from Zipf's law are to a large extent driven by an undue concentration in the largest cities. They benefit from agglomeration effects which seem to work through area rather than through density. Examining the cross‐country heterogeneity in the city size distribution, our model selection approach suggests that historical factors play an important role, in line with the time of development hypothesis.

Suggested Citation

  • Christian Düben & Melanie Krause, 2021. "Population, light, and the size distribution of cities," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 61(1), pages 189-211, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:jregsc:v:61:y:2021:i:1:p:189-211
    DOI: 10.1111/jors.12507
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: https://doi.org/10.1111/jors.12507
    Download Restriction: no

    File URL: https://libkey.io/10.1111/jors.12507?utm_source=ideas
    LibKey link: if access is restricted and if your library uses this service, LibKey will redirect you to where you can use your library subscription to access this item
    ---><---

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. William R. Kerr & Scott Duke Kominers, 2015. "Agglomerative Forces and Cluster Shapes," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 97(4), pages 877-899, October.
    2. Eaton, Jonathan & Eckstein, Zvi, 1997. "Cities and growth: Theory and evidence from France and Japan," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(4-5), pages 443-474, August.
    3. Nathan Nunn & Diego Puga, 2012. "Ruggedness: The Blessing of Bad Geography in Africa," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 94(1), pages 20-36, February.
    4. Bluhm, Richard & Krause, Melanie, 2022. "Top lights: Bright cities and their contribution to economic development," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 157(C).
    5. Esteban Rossi-Hansberg & Mark L. J. Wright, 2007. "Urban Structure and Growth," The Review of Economic Studies, Review of Economic Studies Ltd, vol. 74(2), pages 597-624.
    6. Klaus Desmet & Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, 2013. "Urban Accounting and Welfare," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(6), pages 2296-2327, October.
    7. Cirillo, Pasquale, 2013. "Are your data really Pareto distributed?," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 392(23), pages 5947-5962.
    8. Brakman,Steven & Garretsen,Harry & van Marrewijk,Charles, 2019. "An Introduction to Geographical and Urban Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9781108418492, November.
    9. Davis, James C. & Henderson, J. Vernon, 2003. "Evidence on the political economy of the urbanization process," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 98-125, January.
    10. Bonfatti, Roberto & Poelhekke, Steven, 2017. "From mine to coast: Transport infrastructure and the direction of trade in developing countries," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 127(C), pages 91-108.
    11. Jan Eeckhout, 2004. "Gibrat's Law for (All) Cities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1429-1451, December.
    12. Yannis M. Ioannides & Henry G. Overman & Esteban Rossi-Hansberg & Kurt Schmidheiny, 2008. "The effect of information and communication technologies on urban structure [‘Trade and circuses: Explaining urban giants’]," Economic Policy, CEPR, CESifo, Sciences Po;CES;MSH, vol. 23(54), pages 202-242.
    13. 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.
    14. Rebecca Diamond, 2016. "The Determinants and Welfare Implications of US Workers' Diverging Location Choices by Skill: 1980-2000," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 106(3), pages 479-524, March.
    15. Hernán D. Rozenfeld & Diego Rybski & Xavier Gabaix & Hernán A. Makse, 2011. "The Area and Population of Cities: New Insights from a Different Perspective on Cities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(5), pages 2205-2225, August.
    16. Xavier Gabaix & Rustam Ibragimov, 2011. "Rank - 1 / 2: A Simple Way to Improve the OLS Estimation of Tail Exponents," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 29(1), pages 24-39, January.
    17. Kristian Behrens & Gilles Duranton & Frédéric Robert-Nicoud, 2014. "Productive Cities: Sorting, Selection, and Agglomeration," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 122(3), pages 507-553.
    18. Remi Jedwab & Alexander Moradi, 2016. "The Permanent Effects of Transportation Revolutions in Poor Countries: Evidence from Africa," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 98(2), pages 268-284, May.
    19. Gilles Duranton, 2007. "From cities to productivity and growth in developing countries," Working Papers tecipa-306, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
    20. J Vernon Henderson & Tim Squires & Adam Storeygard & David Weil, 2018. "The Global Distribution of Economic Activity: Nature, History, and the Role of Trade1," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, President and Fellows of Harvard College, vol. 133(1), pages 357-406.
    21. Ioannides, Yannis & Skouras, Spyros, 2013. "US city size distribution: Robustly Pareto, but only in the tail," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 73(1), pages 18-29.
    22. Adam Storeygard, 2016. "Farther on down the Road: Transport Costs, Trade and Urban Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa," The Review of Economic Studies, Review of Economic Studies Ltd, vol. 83(3), pages 1263-1295.
    23. Fujita,Masahisa & Thisse,Jacques-François, 2013. "Economics of Agglomeration," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9781107001411, November.
    24. Moomaw, Ronald L. & Shatter, Ali M., 1996. "Urbanization and Economic Development: A Bias toward Large Cities?," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 13-37, July.
    25. Mutlu, Servet, 1989. "Urban Concentration and Primacy Revisited: An Analysis and Some Policy Conclusions," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 37(3), pages 611-639, April.
    26. Rosen, Kenneth T. & Resnick, Mitchel, 1980. "The size distribution of cities: An examination of the Pareto law and primacy," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(2), pages 165-186, September.
    27. Gollin, Douglas & Lagakos, David & Kirchberger, Martina, 2017. "In Search of a Spatial Equilibrium in the Developing World," CEPR Discussion Papers 12114, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    28. Edward L. Glaeser & Joshua D. Gottlieb, 2009. "The Wealth of Cities: Agglomeration Economies and Spatial Equilibrium in the United States," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 47(4), pages 983-1028, December.
    29. Martin Ravallion & Shaohua Chen, 2011. "Weakly Relative Poverty," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 93(4), pages 1251-1261, November.
    30. Luis Bettencourt & Geoffrey West, 2010. "A unified theory of urban living," Nature, Nature, vol. 467(7318), pages 912-913, October.
    31. Duncan Black & Vernon Henderson, 2003. "Urban evolution in the USA," Journal of Economic Geography, Oxford University Press, vol. 3(4), pages 343-372, October.
    32. 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.
    33. José Lobo & Luís M A Bettencourt & Deborah Strumsky & Geoffrey B West, 2013. "Urban Scaling and the Production Function for Cities," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 8(3), pages 1-10, March.
    34. Krugman, Paul, 1991. "Increasing Returns and Economic Geography," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(3), pages 483-499, June.
    35. Christiaensen, Luc & Todo, Yasuyuki, 2014. "Poverty Reduction During the Rural–Urban Transformation – The Role of the Missing Middle," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 63(C), pages 43-58.
    36. Céline Ferré & Francisco H.G. Ferreira & Peter Lanjouw, 2012. "Is There a Metropolitan Bias? The relationship between poverty and city size in a selection of developing countries," The World Bank Economic Review, World Bank, vol. 26(3), pages 351-382.
    37. Xavier Gabaix, 2009. "Power Laws in Economics and Finance," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 1(1), pages 255-294, May.
    38. Xavier Gabaix, 2016. "Power Laws in Economics: An Introduction," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 30(1), pages 185-206, Winter.
    39. Mesbah Motamed & Raymond Florax & William Masters, 2014. "Agriculture, transportation and the timing of urbanization: Global analysis at the grid cell level," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 19(3), pages 339-368, September.
    40. Giesen, Kristian & Zimmermann, Arndt & Suedekum, Jens, 2010. "The size distribution across all cities - Double Pareto lognormal strikes," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(2), pages 129-137, September.
    41. Alberto F. Ades & Edward L. Glaeser, 1995. "Trade and Circuses: Explaining Urban Giants," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, President and Fellows of Harvard College, vol. 110(1), pages 195-227.
    42. Castells-Quintana, David, 2017. "Malthus living in a slum: Urban concentration, infrastructure and economic growth," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 98(C), pages 158-173.
    43. Xavier Gabaix, 1999. "Zipf's Law for Cities: An Explanation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, President and Fellows of Harvard College, vol. 114(3), pages 739-767.
    44. 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.
    45. Dave Donaldson & Adam Storeygard, 2016. "The View from Above: Applications of Satellite Data in Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 30(4), pages 171-198, Fall.
    46. Lessmann, Christian & Seidel, André, 2017. "Regional inequality, convergence, and its determinants – A view from outer space," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 92(C), pages 110-132.
    47. 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.
    48. Ferre, Celine & Ferreira, Francisco H.G. & Lanjouw, Peter, 2010. "Is there a metropolitan bias ? the inverse relationship between poverty and city size in selected developing countries," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5508, The World Bank.
    49. J. Vernon Henderson & Adam Storeygard & David N. Weil, 2012. "Measuring Economic Growth from Outer Space," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(2), pages 994-1028, April.
    50. World Bank, 2009. "Geography in Motion: World Development Report 2009 (excerpt)," Transnational Corporations Review, Ottawa United Learning Academy, vol. 1(3), pages 40-46, September.
    51. Soo, Kwok Tong, 2005. "Zipf's Law for cities: a cross-country investigation," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 239-263, May.
    52. Fujita, Masahisa & Mori, Tomoya, 1996. "The role of ports in the making of major cities: Self-agglomeration and hub-effect," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(1), pages 93-120, April.
    53. Edward L. Glaeser, 2014. "A World Of Cities: The Causes And Consequences Of Urbanization In Poorer Countries," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 12(5), pages 1154-1199, October.
    54. Gilles Duranton, 2008. "Viewpoint: From cities to productivity and growth in developing countries," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 41(3), pages 689-736, August.
    55. Moretti, Enrico, 2004. "Human capital externalities in cities," 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 51, pages 2243-2291, Elsevier.
    56. Henderson, Vernon, 2003. "The Urbanization Process and Economic Growth: The So-What Question," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 8(1), pages 47-71, March.
    57. Giorgio Fazio & Marco Modica, 2015. "Pareto Or Log-Normal? Best Fit And Truncation In The Distribution Of All Cities," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 55(5), pages 736-756, November.
    58. Henderson, J. Vernon & Wang, Hyoung Gun, 2007. "Urbanization and city growth: The role of institutions," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 283-313, May.
    59. Remi Jedwab & Dietrich Vollrath, 2019. "The Urban Mortality Transition and Poor-Country Urbanization," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 223-275, January.
    60. J. V. Henderson & J. F. Thisse (ed.), 2004. "Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, Elsevier, edition 1, volume 4, number 4.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
    as


    Cited by:

    1. Bluhm, Richard & Krause, Melanie, 2022. "Top lights: Bright cities and their contribution to economic development," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 157(C).
    2. Luisa Alamá-Sabater & Miguel Ángel Márquez & Emili Tortosa-Ausina & Júlia Cravo, 2022. "Are semi-urban spillovers the answer to left-behind places in rural Europe? The case of the Portuguese municipalities," Working Papers 2022/14, Economics Department, Universitat Jaume I, Castellón (Spain).
    3. John Gibson & Susan Olivia & Geua Boe‐Gibson, 2020. "Night Lights In Economics: Sources And Uses," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 34(5), pages 955-980, December.
    4. Yating Ru & Beliyou Haile & John I. Carruthers, 2022. "Urbanization and child growth failure in Sub-Saharan Africa: a geographical analysis," Journal of Geographical Systems, Springer, vol. 24(3), pages 441-473, July.

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Bluhm, Richard & Krause, Melanie, 2022. "Top lights: Bright cities and their contribution to economic development," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 157(C).
    2. Duranton, Gilles & Puga, Diego, 2014. "The Growth of Cities," Handbook of Economic Growth, in: Philippe Aghion & Steven Durlauf (ed.), Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 5, pages 781-853, Elsevier.
    3. Desmet, Klaus & Henderson, J. Vernon, 2015. "The Geography of Development Within Countries," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, in: Gilles Duranton & J. V. Henderson & William C. Strange (ed.), Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, edition 1, volume 5, chapter 0, pages 1457-1517, Elsevier.
    4. Ramos, Arturo & Sanz-Gracia, Fernando, 2015. "US city size distribution revisited: Theory and empirical evidence," MPRA Paper 64051, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Behrens, Kristian & Robert-Nicoud, Frédéric, 2015. "Agglomeration Theory with Heterogeneous Agents," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, in: Gilles Duranton & J. V. Henderson & William C. Strange (ed.), Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, edition 1, volume 5, chapter 0, pages 171-245, Elsevier.
    6. Stef Proost & Jacques-François Thisse, 2019. "What Can Be Learned from Spatial Economics?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 57(3), pages 575-643, September.
    7. Lee, Sanghoon & Li, Qiang, 2013. "Uneven landscapes and city size distributions," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 78(C), pages 19-29.
    8. Arshad, Sidra & Hu, Shougeng & Ashraf, Badar Nadeem, 2019. "Zipf’s law, the coherence of the urban system and city size distribution: Evidence from Pakistan," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 513(C), pages 87-103.
    9. Breinlich, Holger & Ottaviano, Gianmarco I.P. & Temple, Jonathan R.W., 2014. "Regional Growth and Regional Decline," Handbook of Economic Growth, in: Philippe Aghion & Steven Durlauf (ed.), Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 4, pages 683-779, Elsevier.
    10. Rafael González-Val, 2019. "US city-size distribution and space," Spatial Economic Analysis, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 14(3), pages 283-300, July.
    11. Rafael González‐Val, 2019. "Historical urban growth in Europe (1300–1800)," Papers in Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 98(2), pages 1115-1136, April.
    12. Guy Michaels & Ferdinand Rauch & Stephen J. Redding, 2012. "Urbanization and Structural Transformation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, President and Fellows of Harvard College, vol. 127(2), pages 535-586.
    13. repec:esx:essedp:729 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Gilles Duranton, 2008. "Viewpoint: From cities to productivity and growth in developing countries," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 41(3), pages 689-736, August.
    15. Ronan Lyons & Elisa Maria Tirindelli, 2022. "The Rise & Fall of Urban Concentration in Britain: Zipf, Gibrat and Gini across two centuries," Trinity Economics Papers tep0522, Trinity College Dublin, Department of Economics.
    16. J. Vernon Henderson & Sebastian Kriticos, 2018. "The Development of the African System of Cities," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 10(1), pages 287-314, August.
    17. Hasan Engin Duran & Andrzej Cieślik, 2021. "The distribution of city sizes in Turkey: A failure of Zipf’s law due to concavity," Regional Science Policy & Practice, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 13(5), pages 1702-1719, October.
    18. Zhihong Chen & Shihe Fu & Dayong Zhang, 2013. "Searching for the Parallel Growth of Cities in China," Urban Studies, Urban Studies Journal Limited, vol. 50(10), pages 2118-2135, August.
    19. Gilles Duranton, 2007. "From cities to productivity and growth in developing countries," Working Papers tecipa-306, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
    20. Frick, Susanne A. & Rodríguez-Pose, Andrés, 2018. "Change in urban concentration and economic growth," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 105(C), pages 156-170.
    21. Ramos, Arturo & Sanz-Gracia, Fernando & González-Val, Rafael, 2013. "A new framework for the US city size distribution: Empirical evidence and theory," MPRA Paper 52190, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • R11 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Regional Economic Activity: Growth, Development, Environmental Issues, and Changes
    • R12 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Size and Spatial Distributions of Regional Economic Activity; Interregional Trade (economic geography)
    • O18 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Urban, Rural, Regional, and Transportation Analysis; Housing; Infrastructure
    • C18 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Methodolical Issues: General

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:bla:jregsc:v:61:y:2021:i:1:p:189-211. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    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 CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc 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 RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Wiley-Blackwell Digital Licensing or Christopher F. Baum (email available below). General contact details of provider: http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/journal.asp?ref=0022-4146 .

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

    IDEAS is a RePEc service. RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.