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The evolution of city size distributions

In: Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics

  • Gabaix, Xavier
  • Ioannides, Yannis M.

We review the accumulated knowledge on city size distributions and determinants of urban growth. This topic is of interest because of a number of key stylized facts, including notably Zipf's law for cities (which states that the number of cities of size greater than S is proportional to 1/S) and the importance of urban primacy. We first review the empirical evidence on the upper tail of city size distribution. We offer a novel discussion of the important econometric issues in the characterization of the distribution. We then discuss the theories that have been advanced to explain the approximate constancy of the distribution across very different economic and social systems, emphasizing both barebone statistical theories and more developed economic theories. We discuss the more recent work on the determinants of urban growth and, in particular, growth regressions, economic explanations of city size distributions other than Gibrat's law, consequences of major shocks (quasi natural experiments), and the dynamics of U.S. urban evolution.

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This chapter was published in:
  • 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.
  • This item is provided by Elsevier in its series Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics with number 4-53.
    Handle: RePEc:eee:regchp:4-53
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