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American Economic Review: Vol. 101 No. 5 (August 2011)

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The Area and Population of Cities: New Insights from a Different Perspective on Cities

Article Citation

Rozenfeld, Hernán D., Diego Rybski, Xavier Gabaix, and Hernán A. Makse. 2011. "The Area and Population of Cities: New Insights from a Different Perspective on Cities." American Economic Review, 101(5): 2205-25.

DOI: 10.1257/aer.101.5.2205

Abstract

The distribution of city populations has attracted much attention, in part because it constrains models of local growth. However, there is no consensus on the distribution below the very upper tail, because available data need to rely on "legal" rather than "economic" definitions for medium and small cities. To remedy this difficulty, we construct cities "from the bottom up" by clustering populated areas obtained from high-resolution data. We find that Zipf's law for population holds for cities as small as 5,000 inhabitants in Great Britain and 12,000 inhabitants in the US. We also find a Zipf's law for areas. JEL: R11, R12, R23

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Authors

Rozenfeld, Hernán D. (NYU and Levich Institute, CUNY)
Rybski, Diego (Levich Institute, CUNY and Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research)
Gabaix, Xavier (NYU)
Makse, Hernán A. (Levich Institute, CUNY)

JEL Classifications

R11: Regional Economic Activity: Growth, Development, and Changes
R12: Size and Spatial Distributions of Regional Economic Activity
R23: Urban, Rural, and Regional Economics: Regional Migration; Regional Labor Markets; Population; Neighborhood Characteristics


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