The end of a paradigm: Is Zipf's law universal?

L. Benguigui, E. Blumenfeld-Lieberthal*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is largely accepted among geographers and economists that the City Size Distribution (CSD) is well described by a power law, i.e., Zipf's law. This opinion is shared by this community in a manner it could be treated as a paradigm. In reality, however, Zipf's law is not always observed (even as an approximation), and we prefer to adopt a classification of the CSD into three classes. In this work, we present the characteristics of these classes and give some examples for them. We use the Israeli system of cities as an interesting case study in which the same ensemble of cities passes from one class to another. We relate this change to the urbanization process that occurred in Israel from the 1960s onwards.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-100
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Geographical Systems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2011


  • City size distribution
  • Urbanization process
  • Zipf's law


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