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The Evolution of US City Size Distribution from a Long Term Perspective (1900-2000)

González-Val, Rafael (2009): The Evolution of US City Size Distribution from a Long Term Perspective (1900-2000).

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Abstract

This paper analyses the evolution of city size distribution in the United States throughout the twentieth century. In particular, it tests the validity 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 proportionate growth, according to which the growth rate of a variable is independent of its initial size. To achieve this, we use parametric and nonparametric methods. The main contribution of this work is the use of a new database with information on all the cities (understood as incorporated places), thus covering the entire distribution (without size restrictions). Our results enable us to confirm, from a long term perspective, that Gibrat’s law holds (weakly) and that Zipf’s law holds only if the sample is sufficiently restricted at the top, not for a larger sample, because city size distribution follows a lognormal when we consider all cities.

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