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The evolution of city size distributions

Xavier Gabaix and Yannis Ioannides ()

Chapter 53 in Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, 2004, vol. 4, pp 2341-2378 from Elsevier

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 barebone 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.

JEL-codes: R1 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2004
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