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Urban Structure and Growth

  • Mark Wright
  • Esteban Rossi-Hansberg

Most economic activity occurs in cities. This creates a tension between local increasing returns, implied by the existence of cities, and aggregate constant returns, implied by balanced growth. To address this tension, we develop a theory of economic growth in an urban environment. We show how the urban structure is the margin that eliminates local increasing returns to yield constant returns to scale in the aggregate, thereby implying a city size distribution that is well described by a power distribution with coefficient one: Zipf's Law. Under strong assumptions our theory produces Zipf's Law exactly. More generally, it produces the systematic deviations from Zipf's Law observed in the data, namely the under-representation of small cities and the absence of very large ones. In these cases, the model identifies the standard deviation of industry productivity shocks as the key parameter determining dispersion in the city size distribution. We present evidence that the dispersion of city sizes is consistent with the dispersion of productivity shocks in the data.

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Paper provided by Society for Economic Dynamics in its series 2004 Meeting Papers with number 33.

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Date of creation: 2004
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Handle: RePEc:red:sed004:33
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  1. Esteban Rossi-Hansberg & Mark L. J. Wright, 2006. "Urban structure and growth," Staff Report 381, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  2. Eaton, Jonathan & Eckstein, Zvi, 1997. "Cities and growth: Theory and evidence from France and Japan," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(4-5), pages 443-474, August.
  3. Wright, Mark, 2004. "Firm Size Dynamics in the Aggregate Economy," Santa Cruz Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt4rs4202s, Department of Economics, UC Santa Cruz.
  4. Charles I. Jones, 1999. "Growth: With or Without Scale Effects?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 139-144, May.
  5. Y Ioannides & Henry Overman, 2000. "Zipfs Law for Cities: An Empirical Examination," CEP Discussion Papers dp0484, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  6. Gilles Duranton, 2002. "City Size Distributions As A Consequence of the Growth Process," CEP Discussion Papers dp0550, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  7. 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.
  8. Kwok Tong Soo, 2004. "Zipfs Law for Cities: A Cross Country Investigation," CEP Discussion Papers dp0641, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  9. Blank, Aharon & Solomon, Sorin, 2000. "Power laws in cities population, financial markets and internet sites (scaling in systems with a variable number of components)," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 287(1), pages 279-288.
  10. Romer, Paul M, 1990. "Endogenous Technological Change," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(5), pages S71-102, October.
  11. Horvath, Michael, 2000. "Sectoral shocks and aggregate fluctuations," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 69-106, February.
  12. Cordoba, Juan Carlos, 2010. "On the Distribution of City Sizes," Staff General Research Papers 32121, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
  13. Henderson, J. Vernon, 2005. "Urbanization and Growth," Handbook of Economic Growth, in: Philippe Aghion & Steven Durlauf (ed.), Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 24, pages 1543-1591 Elsevier.
  14. Xavier Gabaix, 1999. "Zipf's Law and the Growth of Cities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 129-132, May.
  15. Hercovitz, Z. & Sampson, M., 1989. "Output Growth, The Real Wage, And Employment Fluctuations," RCER Working Papers 179, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
  16. Lucas, Robert E, Jr & Prescott, Edward C, 1971. "Investment Under Uncertainty," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 39(5), pages 659-81, September.
  17. Lucas, Robert Jr., 1988. "On the mechanics of economic development," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 3-42, July.
  18. 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.
  19. Jan Eeckhout, 2004. "Gibrat's Law for (All) Cities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1429-1451, December.
  20. 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.
  21. Xavier Gabaix, 1999. "Zipf'S Law For Cities: An Explanation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(3), pages 739-767, August.
  22. Gilles Duranton, 2007. "Urban Evolutions: The Fast, the Slow, and the Still," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(1), pages 197-221, March.
  23. Chun-Chung Au & Vernon Henderson, 2002. "How Migration Restrictions Limit Agglomeration and Productivity in China," NBER Working Papers 8707, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  24. J.V. Henderson, 1972. "The Sizes and Types of Cities," Working Papers 75, Queen's University, Department of Economics.
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