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The Evolution of City Size Distributions

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  • Xavier Gabaix
  • Yannis M. Ioannides

Abstract

We review the accumulated knowledge on city size distributions and determinants of urban growth. This topic is of interest because of a number of key stylized facts, including notably Zipf’s law for cities (which states that the number of cities of size greater than S is proportional to 1/S) and the importance of urban primacy. We first review the empirical evidence on the upper tail of city size distribution. We offer a novel discussion of the important econometric issues in the characterization of the distribution. We then discuss the theories that have been advanced to explain the approximate constancy of the distribution across very different economic and social systems, emphasizing both bare-bone statistical theories and more developed economic theories. We discuss the more recent work on the determinants of urban growth and, in particular, growth regressions, economic explanations of city size distributions other than Gibrat’s law, consequences of major shocks (quasi natural experiments), and the dynamics of U.S. urban evolution.

Suggested Citation

  • Xavier Gabaix & Yannis M. Ioannides, 2003. "The Evolution of City Size Distributions," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 0310, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
  • Handle: RePEc:tuf:tuftec:0310
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    Keywords

    city size distribution; Gibrat’s law; Hill estimator; persistence of city size distributions; power laws; random growth; urban growth; urban hierarchy; urban primacy; Zipf regression; Zipf’s law.;

    JEL classification:

    • C2 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Single Equation Models; Single Variables
    • N9 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History
    • R1 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics

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