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Zipf's law for cities: an empirical examination

  • Henry G. Overman
  • Yannis Ioannides

We use data for metro areas in the United States, from the US Census for 1900 û 1990, to test the validity of Zipf''s Law for cities. Previous investigations are restricted to regressions of log size against log rank. In contrast, we use a nonparametric procedure to calculate local Zipf exponents from the mean and variance of city growth rates. This also allows us to test for the validity of Gibrat''s Law for city growth processes. Despite variation in growth rates as a function of city size, Gibrat''s Law does hold. In addition the local Zipf exponents are broadly consistent with Zipf''s Law. Deviations from Zipf''s Law are easily explained by deviations from Gibrat''s Law.

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File URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/20136/
File Function: Open access version.
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Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library in its series LSE Research Online Documents on Economics with number 20136.

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Length: 15 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2000
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:20136
Contact details of provider: Postal: LSE Library Portugal Street London, WC2A 2HD, U.K.
Phone: +44 (020) 7405 7686
Web page: http://www.lse.ac.uk/

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  1. Y Ioannides & Henry Overman, 2000. "Cross Sectional Evolution of the US City Size Distribution," CEP Discussion Papers dp0483, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  2. Linda Harris Dobkins & Yannis M. Ioannides, 1999. "Spatial Interactions Among U.S. Cities: 1900-1990," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 9913, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
  3. Xavier Gabaix, 1999. "Zipf'S Law For Cities: An Explanation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(3), pages 739-767, August.
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