MetaZipf. A dynamic meta-analysis of city size distributions

The results from urban scaling in recent years have held the promise of increased efficiency to the societies who could actively control the distribution of their cities’ size. However, little evidence exists as to the factors which influence the level of urban unevenness, as expressed by the slope of the rank-size distribution, partly because the diversity of results found in the literature follows the heterogeneity of analysis specifications. In this study, I set up a meta-analysis of Zipf’s law which accounts for technical as well as topical factors of variations of Zipf’s coefficient. I found 86 studies publishing at least one empirical estimation of this coefficient and recorded their metadata into an open database. I regressed the 1962 corresponding estimates with variables describing the study and the estimation process as well as socio-demographic variables describing the territory under enquiry. A dynamic meta-analysis was also performed to look for factors of evolution of city size unevenness. The results of the most interesting models are presented in the article, whereas all analyses can be reproduced on a dedicated online platform. The results show that on average, 40% of the variation of Zipf’s coefficients is due to the technical choices. The main other variables associated with distinct evolutions are linked to the urbanisation process rather than the process of economic development and population growth. Finally, no evidence was found to support the effectiveness of past planning actions in modifying this urban feature.


Cottineau C (2017) MetaZipf. A dynamic meta-analysis of city size distributions. PLoS ONE 12(8): e0183919.