OECD Regional Development Working Papers

Working papers from the Regional Development Policy Division of the OECD cover a full range of topics including regional statistics and analysis, urban governance and economics, rural governance and economics, and multi-level governance. Depending on the programme of work, the papers can cover specific topics such as regional innovation and networks, the determinants of regional growth or fiscal consolidation at the sub-national level.


On City Size Distribution

Evidence from OECD Functional Urban Areas

An increasing amount of empirical evidence documents that city-size distribution within a country follows a power law, often in the form of Zipf’s law. This paper provides new comparative evidence on city size distribution across OECD countries. It uses a database where urban agglomerations are consistently identified across different countries, through an algorithm based on population density and commuting patterns. The paper investigates whether Zipf’s law fits well with data. A robustness check is carried out using a traditional administrative definition of cities. Results show that Zipf’s law describes well city size distribution not only at country level, but also at wider spatial scales. The law does not fit as well with the data when using a traditional administrative definition of cities.


Keywords: Zipf’s law, metropolitan areas, rank-size rule, city size distribution
JEL: R12: Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics / General Regional Economics / Size and Spatial Distributions of Regional Economic Activity; O40: Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth / Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity / Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity: General
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