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The Effects of Urban Concentration on Economic Growth

  • J. Vernon Henderson

The paper examines whether there is a significant relationship between economic growth and the degree of urban concentration, as measured by primacy, or the share of the largest metro area in national urban population. Is there reason to believe many countries have excessive primacy and how costly is excessive (or insufficient) primacy? Using GMM methods, the paper estimates growth effects, using a panel of 80-100 countries from 1960 to 1995. It also looks at the determinants of primacy and policy instruments that might be effective in reducing excessive primacy. The paper finds that there is a best degree of national urban primacy, which increases sharply up to a per capita income of about $5000 (PPP 1987 income), before declining modestly. The best degree of primacy declines with country scale. Error bands about estimated best degrees of primacy are generally tight. Growth losses from significantly non-optimal concentration are large and rise with income. Results are very robust. In a group of 72 countries in 1990, it appears that at least 24 have satisfactory primacy; at least 24 have significantly excessive primacy; and at least 5 countries have too little. What determines urban concentration? Econometric models show that urban concentration initially rises with income and then peaks around an income of $2400, before declining. Openness, or trade effects are modest. Similarly, the effects of a greater degree of political decentralization while significantly reducing urban concentration are quite modest. The key policy type variable affecting concentration is investment in inter-regional transport infrastructure. In particular, increases in the density of road networks significantly reduce primacy, with the effect rising with income. As a policy consideration, this takes heightened importance because growth losses from excessive primacy tend to rise with income. The effect on growth rates of investment in roads, through its effect on primacy, is highest in middle income countries.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w7503.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7503.

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Date of creation: Jan 2000
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Publication status: Published as "Community Development: The Effects of Growth and Uncertainty", American Economic Review, Vol. 70, no. 5 (1980): 894-910.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7503
Note: EFG PE
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  1. Vernon Henderson, 1999. "Marshall's Economies," NBER Working Papers 7358, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Glaeser, Edward L & Hedi D. Kallal & Jose A. Scheinkman & Andrei Shleifer, 1992. "Growth in Cities," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(6), pages 1126-52, December.
    • Glaeser, Edward Ludwig & Kallal, Hedi D. & Scheinkman, Jose A. & Shleifer, Andrei, 1992. "Growth in Cities," Scholarly Articles 3451309, Harvard University Department of Economics.
    • Edward L. Glaeser & Hedi D. Kallal & Jose A. Scheinkman & Andrei Shleifer, 1991. "Growth in Cities," NBER Working Papers 3787, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  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.
  4. Richardson, Harry W, 1987. "The Costs of Urbanization: A Four-Country Comparison," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 35(3), pages 561-80, April.
  5. Lucas, Robert Jr., 1988. "On the mechanics of economic development," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 3-42, July.
  6. Durlauf,S.N. & Quah,D.T., 1998. "The new empirics of economic growth," Working papers 3, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
  7. Arellano, Manuel & Bond, Stephen, 1991. "Some Tests of Specification for Panel Data: Monte Carlo Evidence and an Application to Employment Equations," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 58(2), pages 277-97, April.
  8. Antonio Ciccone & Robert E. Hall, 1995. "Productivity and the density of economic activity," Economics Working Papers 120, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  9. Duncan Black & Vernon Henderson, 1999. "A Theory of Urban Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(2), pages 252-284, April.
  10. Henderson, J V, 1974. "The Sizes and Types of Cities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 64(4), pages 640-56, September.
  11. Robert J. Barro, 1989. "Economic Growth in a Cross Section of Countries," NBER Working Papers 3120, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. N. Gregory Mankiw & David Romer & David N. Weil, 1990. "A Contribution to the Empirics of Economic Growth," NBER Working Papers 3541, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Henderson, J Vernon & Kuncoro, Ari, 1996. "Industrial Centralization in Indonesia," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 10(3), pages 513-40, September.
  14. Henderson, J. Vernon, 1991. "Urban Development: Theory, Fact, and Illusion," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195069020.
  15. Wheaton, William C & Shishido, Hisanobu, 1981. "Urban Concentration, Agglomeration Economies, and the Level of Economic Development," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 30(1), pages 17-30, October.
  16. Islam, Nazrul, 1995. "Growth Empirics: A Panel Data Approach," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 110(4), pages 1127-70, November.
  17. Glaeser, E.L. & Ades, A.F., 1993. "Trade and Circuses: Explaining Urban Giants," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1646, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
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