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The evolution of the US urban structure from a long-run perspective (1900-2000)


  • González-Val, Rafael


This paper analyses the evolution of the size distribution of cities in the United States throughout the 20th century. In particular, we are interested in testing the fulfilment of two empirical regularities studied in urban economics: Zipf’s law, which postulates that the product between rank and size of a population is constant, and Gibrat’s law or the law of parallel growth, according to which the growth rate of a variable is independent of its initial size. For this parametrical and non-parametrical methods have been used. These laws have already been studied for the American case with the most populous cities or with MSAs. The main contribution of this work is the use of a new database with information on all the cities, thus covering the entire distribution. The results show that although if the sample is considered as a whole the fulfilment of Zipf’s law is rejected, Gibrat’s law is accepted for all the period considered.

Suggested Citation

  • González-Val, Rafael, 2007. "The evolution of the US urban structure from a long-run perspective (1900-2000)," MPRA Paper 9732, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:9732

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Overman, Henry G. & Ioannides, Yannis M., 2001. "Cross-Sectional Evolution of the U.S. City Size Distribution," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(3), pages 543-566, May.
    2. Esteban Rossi-Hansberg & Mark L. J. Wright, 2007. "Urban Structure and Growth," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 74(2), pages 597-624.
    3. Jan Eeckhout, 2004. "Gibrat's Law for (All) Cities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1429-1451, December.
    4. Ioannides, Yannis M. & Overman, Henry G., 2003. "Zipf's law for cities: an empirical examination," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(2), pages 127-137, March.
    5. 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.
    6. Duncan Black & Vernon Henderson, 2003. "Urban evolution in the USA," Journal of Economic Geography, Oxford University Press, vol. 3(4), pages 343-372, October.
    7. Gabaix, Xavier & Ioannides, Yannis M., 2004. "The evolution of city size distributions," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics,in: J. V. Henderson & J. F. Thisse (ed.), Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 53, pages 2341-2378 Elsevier.
    8. Andrew K. Rose, 2005. "Cities and Countries," NBER Working Papers 11762, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Soo, Kwok Tong, 2005. "Zipf's Law for cities: a cross-country investigation," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 239-263, May.
    10. Quah, Danny, 1993. " Galton's Fallacy and Tests of the Convergence Hypothesis," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 95(4), pages 427-443, December.
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    More about this item


    Zipf’s law; Gibrat’s law; city size distribution; urban growth;

    JEL classification:

    • C14 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Semiparametric and Nonparametric Methods: General
    • R00 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General - - - General


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