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Zipf's law for cities in the regions and the country

  • Kristian Giesen
  • Jens Südekum

The salient rank-size rule known as Zipf's law is not only satisfied for Germany's national urban hierarchy, but also for the city size distributions in single German regions. To analyze this phenomenon, we build on the insights by Gabaix (1999) that Zipf's law follows from a stochastic growth process. In particular, Gabaix shows that if the regions follow Gibrat's law, we should observe Zipf at both the regional and the national level. This theory has never been addressed empirically. Using non-parametric techniques we find that Gibrat's law holds in each German region, irrespective of how "regions" are defined. In other words, Gibrat's law and therefore Zipf's law tend to hold everywhere in space.

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Article provided by Oxford University Press in its journal Journal of Economic Geography.

Volume (Year): 11 (2011)
Issue (Month): 4 (July)
Pages: 667-686

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Handle: RePEc:oup:jecgeo:v:11:y:2011:i:4:p:667-686
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  1. Yannis Menelaos Ioannides & Henry G. Overman, 2003. "Zipf’s law for cities : an empirical examination," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 583, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  2. Esteban Rossi-Hansberg & Mark L. J. Wright, 2006. "Urban structure and growth," Staff Report 381, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
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  6. Kwok Tong Soo, 2004. "Zipf's law for cities: a cross country investigation," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 19947, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
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  8. Cheshire, Paul, 1999. "Trends in sizes and structures of urban areas," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, in: P. C. Cheshire & E. S. Mills (ed.), Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 35, pages 1339-1373 Elsevier.
  9. 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.
  10. Jan Eeckhout, 2004. "Gibrat's Law for (All) Cities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1429-1451, December.
  11. Duncan Black & Vernon Henderson, 2003. "Urban evolution in the USA," Journal of Economic Geography, Oxford University Press, vol. 3(4), pages 343-372, October.
  12. Gan, Li & Li, Dong & Song, Shunfeng, 2006. "Is the Zipf law spurious in explaining city-size distributions?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 92(2), pages 256-262, August.
  13. Xavier Gabaix, 1999. "Zipf's Law for Cities: An Explanation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 739-767.
  14. Maarten Bosker & Steven Brakman & Harry Garretsen & Marc Schramm, 2006. "A Century of Shocks: The Evolution of the German City Size Distribution 1925 – 1999," CESifo Working Paper Series 1728, CESifo Group Munich.
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