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Survival of the Fittest in Cities: Agglomeration, Polarization, and Income Inequality

Author

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  • Kristian Behrens
  • Frédéric Robert-Nicoud

Abstract

Using a large sample of US urban areas, we provide systematic evidence that mean household income rises with city ('agglomeration'), that this effect is stronger for the top of the income distribution ('polarization'), and that household income inequality increases at a decreasing rate in city size ('inequality'). To account simultaneously for these facts, we develop a microfounded model of endogenous city formation in which urban centres select the most productive agents. Income inequality is driven by both the 'poverty' and the 'superstar' margins: whereas the least productive agents fail in a tougher urban environment, which increases 'poverty', the most productive agents become 'superstars' who reap the benefits from a larger urban market. At equilibrium, the returns to skills are increasing in city size, thereby dilating the income distribution. Our model is both rich and tractable enough to allow for a detailed investigation of when cities emerge, what determines their size, how they interact through the channels of trade, and how inter-city trade influences intra-city income inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Kristian Behrens & Frédéric Robert-Nicoud, 2009. "Survival of the Fittest in Cities: Agglomeration, Polarization, and Income Inequality," Cahiers de recherche 0919, CIRPEE.
  • Handle: RePEc:lvl:lacicr:0919
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    File URL: http://www.cirpee.org/fileadmin/documents/Cahiers_2009/CIRPEE09-19.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Combes, Pierre-Philippe & Duranton, Gilles & Gobillon, Laurent & Roux, Sébastien, 2012. "Sorting and local wage and skill distributions in France," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(6), pages 913-930.
    2. 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.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    City size; agglomeration; income inequality; heterogeneity; firm selection;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • F12 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Models of Trade with Imperfect Competition and Scale Economies; Fragmentation
    • 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)

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