Primate city

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Tallinn, the primate city of Estonia — it is five times larger than the country's second largest settlement.

A primate city[1] is a city that is the largest in its country, province, state, or region, and disproportionately larger than any others in the urban hierarchy.[2] A primate city distribution is a rank-size distribution that has one very large city with many much smaller cities and towns, and no intermediate-sized urban centers: a king effect, visible as an outlier on an otherwise linear graph, when the rest of the data fit a power law or stretched exponential function.[3]

The law of the primate city was first proposed by the geographer Mark Jefferson in 1939.[4] He defines a primate city as being "at least twice as large as the next largest city and more than twice as significant."[5] Aside from size and population, a primate city will usually have precedence in all other aspects of its country's society such as economics, politics, culture, and education. Primate cities also serve as targets for the majority of a country or region's internal migration.

In geography, the phenomenon of excessive concentration of population and development of the main city of a country or a region (often to the detriment of other areas) is called urban primacy or urban macrocephaly.[6]


Urban primacy can be measured as the share of a country's population that lives in the primate city.[7] Relative primacy indicates the ratio of the primate city's population to that of the second largest in a country or region.[8]


Not all countries have primate cities. In those that do, there is debate as to whether the city serves a parasitic or generative function.[9] The presence of a primate city in a country may indicate an imbalance in development—usually a progressive core and a lagging periphery—on which the city depends for labor and other resources.[10] However, the urban structure is not directly dependent on a country's level of economic development.[2]

Many primate cities gain an increasing share of their country's population. This can be due to a reduction in blue-collar population in the hinterlands because of mechanization and automation. Simultaneously, the number of educated employees in white-collar endeavors such as politics, finance, media, and higher education rises. These sectors are clustered predominantly in primate cities where power and wealth are concentrated.[citation needed]


Some global cities are considered national or regional primate cities.[5][11] An example of a global city that is also a primate city is Istanbul in Turkey. Istanbul serves as the primate city of Turkey due to the unmatched economic, political, cultural, and educational influence that the city possesses in comparison to other Turkish cities such as the capital Ankara, İzmir, or Bursa. However, not all regions or countries will possess a primate city. The United States has never had a primate city on a national level due to the decentralized nature of the country, and because the second-largest city of the country, Los Angeles, is not far behind the largest city in the country, New York City, in population and GDP. The metropolitan area of New York City has 21 million residents and Los Angeles has 12 million residents.[12] Mexico City, Paris, Cairo, Jakarta, and Seoul have been described as primate cities in their respective countries.[13]

Sub-national divisions can also have primate cities. For instance, New York City is New York State's primate city because it has 32 times more people than the state's second-largest city of Buffalo. New York City has 44% of the population and has 65% of the GDP of New York State.[14] The city of Anchorage is another U.S. example, with around 40% of the total population of Alaska in the city limits. China does not have a primate city at a national level, but a number of provincial capitals are disproportionately larger than other urban areas in the respective province. For example Henan, Hubei and Sichuan have provincial capitals (Zhengzhou, Wuhan, and Chengdu respectively) that are significantly larger than the second-largest city and each of these provinces has the population of a large European country.[citation needed] India does not have a primate city, as Delhi is not much larger than Mumbai and Kolkata in terms of population. However, many Indian states, such as Karnataka, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu or Maharashtra have primate cities, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, and Mumbai, respectively. Other Indian states such as Uttar Pradesh or Kerala do not have any primate cities.[citation needed]

Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, has been called "the most primate city on Earth": in 2000 it was 40 times larger than the second-largest city of that time, Nakhon Ratchasima.[15] As of 2022, Bangkok is nearly nine times larger than Thailand's current second-largest city of Chiang Mai, which has been growing in population and has also had its boundaries expanded to reflect that growth.[16][17] Taking the concept from his examination of the primate city during the 2010 Thai political protests and applying it to the role that primate cities play if they are national capitals, researcher Jack Fong noted that when primate cities like Bangkok function as national capitals, they are inherently vulnerable to insurrection by the military and the dispossessed. He cites the fact that most primate cities serving as national capitals contain major headquarters for the country. Thus, logistically, it is rather "efficient" to target a national capital that is also a primate city; most of the governing power is contained in that one small area, and so are most of the people.[18]

The metropolitan area of the city of Moscow, the capital of Russia, is almost four times the size of the metropolitan area of the next largest city, Saint Petersburg,[19][20] and plays a unique and uncontested role of the cultural and political center of the country.[21] It can therefore be considered a primate city.

Primate cities need not be capital cities: governments may attempt to establish a new planned capital city to challenge the primacy of the largest city and provide more balanced growth, for example in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam can still be considered a primate city although the capital was moved to Dodoma in 1996. A non-capital primate city may also emerge organically: for example, the existing city of Wellington was chosen to be New Zealand's capital in 1865, although Auckland commands a greater share of the population and economy.



Country Primate city/urban area Population Second largest city/urban area Population Relative primacy
 Ethiopia Addis Ababa 3,352,000 Adama 342,940 9.8
 Algeria Algiers 7,896,923 Oran 1,560,329 5.1
 Madagascar Antananarivo 1,275,207 Toamasina 300,813 4.2
 Eritrea Asmara 650,000 Keren 82,198 7.9
 Mali Bamako 1,810,366 Sikasso 226,618 8.0
 Central African Republic Bangui 622,771 Bimbo 124,176 5.0
 Gambia Banjul-Serekunda area 519,835[22] Brikama 101,119[22] 5.1
 Guinea-Bissau Bissau 492,004 Gabu 48,670 10.1
 Egypt Cairo[23] 9,539,673 Alexandria 5,200,000 1.8
 Guinea Conakry[24] 1,660,973 Nzérékoré 195,027 8.5
 Senegal Dakar[24] 2,646,503 Touba 753,315 3.5
 Djibouti Djibouti City 475,322 Ali Sabieh 37,939 12.5
 Sierra Leone Freetown[24] 1,500,234 Bo 233,684 6.4
 Uganda Kampala 1,507,080 Nansana 365,124 4.1
 Rwanda Kigali 1,132,686 Butare 89,600 12.6
 Democratic Republic of the Congo Kinshasa 17,239,463 Mbuji-Mayi 2,643,000 7.3
 Gabon Libreville 703,904 Port Gentil 136,462 5.2
 Togo Lomé 1,477,660 Sokodé 118,000 12.5
 Angola Luanda[24] 8,069,612 Lubango 903,564 8.9
 Zambia Lusaka 2,238,569 Kitwe 522,092 4.3
 Lesotho Maseru 330,760 Teyateyaneng 75,115 4.4
 Liberia Monrovia 1,101,970 Ganta 41,106 26.8
 Kenya Nairobi 4,734,881 Mombasa 1,208,333 3.91
 Chad N'Djamena 1,605,696 Moundou 137,929 11.6
 Niger Niamey 1,243,500 Zinder 235,605 5.3
 Mauritania Nouakchott 958,399 Nouadhibou 118,167 8.1
 Sudan Omdurman-Khartoum area 5,490,000 Port Sudan 489,725 11.2
 Burkina Faso Ouagadougou 2,500,000 Bobo Dioulaso 537,728 4.6
 São Tomé and Príncipe São Tomé 71,868 Santo Amaro 8,239 8.7
 Tunisia Tunis 2,643,695 Sfax 330,440 8.0
 Seychelles Victoria 26,450 Anse Boileau 4,093 6.5
 Namibia Windhoek 325,858 Walvis Bay 62,096 5.2


Country Primate city/urban area Population Second largest city/urban area Population Relative primacy
 Jordan Amman 4,425,000 Irbid 750,000 5.9
 Turkmenistan Ashgabat 1,168,000 Türkmenabat 253,000 4.6
 Azerbaijan Baku 2,934,000 Ganja 335,000 8.8
 Brunei Bandar Seri Begawan 280,000 Kuala Belait 70,000 4.0
 Thailand Bangkok[25][26] 10,539,000 Chiang Mai[16][17] 1,197,931 8.8
 Lebanon Beirut[24] 2,781,000 Tripoli 365,000 7.6
 Kyrgyzstan Bishkek[24] 1,297,000 Osh 282,000 4.6
 Bangladesh Dhaka 22,478,116 Chittagong 5,252,842 4.3
 Timor-Leste Dili 235,000 Baucau 15,000 15.7
 Tajikistan Dushanbe 1,390,000 Khujand 182,000 7.6
 Palestine Gaza City 766,331 Hebron 308,750 2.5
 Indonesia Jakarta 10,562,088 Surabaya 2,817,314 3.7
 Afghanistan Kabul[24] 4,834,000 Kandahar 570,000 8.5
   Nepal Kathmandu 3,941,000 Pokhara 523,000 9.8
 Malaysia Kuala Lumpur 7,564,000 George Town 2,412,000 3.1
 Kuwait Kuwait City[24] 4,022,000 Al Jahra 400,000 10.1
 Maldives Malé 135,000 Addu City 34,000 4.0
 Philippines Metro Manila 12,877,253 Metro Cebu 2,849,213 4.5
 Oman Muscat 1,205,000 Salalah 340,000 3.5
 Cambodia Phnom Penh[24] 2,177,000 Siem Reap 140,000 15.6
 North Korea Pyongyang 2,228,000 Hamhung 535,000 4.2
 South Korea Seoul 9,976,000 Busan 3,468,000 2.9
 Uzbekistan Tashkent 3,492,000 Samarkand 1,201,000 2.9
 Georgia Tbilisi 1,207,000 Batumi 200,000 6.0
 Bhutan Thimphu 115,000 Phuntsholing 28,000 4.1
 Iran Tehran 13,633,000 Mashhad 3,167,000 4.3
 Iraq Baghdad 8,126,755 Basra 1,326,564 6.1
 Japan Tokyo 37,274,000 Osaka 19,060,000 2
 Laos Vientiane 1,058,000 Savannakhet 120,000 8.8
 Mongolia Ulaanbaatar[24] 1,508,000 Erdenet 100,000 15.1
 Myanmar Yangon[27] 7,360,703 Mandalay 1,726,889 4.3
 Armenia Yerevan[24] 1,403,000 Gyumri 130,000 10.8

For the Philippines, figures are for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu. Manila is the national capital, which is within Metro Manila, a region. Meanwhile, Cebu City is the capital city of the province of Cebu, with Metro Cebu being its main urban center. Metro Manila is within Mega Manila, the megapolis that has a population of around 25 million.


Country Primate city/urban area Population Second largest city/urban area Population Relative primacy
 Greece Athens[24][23] 3,753,783 Thessaloniki 1,084,001 3.5
 Serbia Belgrade 1,659,440 Novi Sad 341,625 4.9
 Romania Bucharest 2,272,163 Cluj-Napoca 411,379 5.5
 Hungary Budapest[28] 3,303,786 Debrecen 237,888 13.9
 Moldova Chișinău 736,100 Tiraspol (de jure)[Note 1] 135,700 5.4
 Denmark Copenhagen[23][28] 2,016,285 Aarhus 330,639 6.1
 Ireland Dublin[24][28] 1,904,806 Cork 399,216 4.8
 Finland Helsinki 1,522,694 Tampere 385,610 3.9
 United Kingdom London[26][28] 14,257,962 Birmingham 3,683,000 3.9
 Luxembourg Luxembourg 107,247 Esch-sur-Alzette 32,600 3.3
 Belarus Minsk 2,101,018 Gomel 526,872 4.0
 Norway Oslo[23] 709,037 Bergen 288,133 2.5
 France Paris[23][25][26][28] 12,405,426 Lyon 2,237,676 5.5
 Iceland Reykjavík 209,680[Note 2] Akureyri 18,191 11.5
 Latvia Riga[24][23] 627,487 Daugavpils 82,046 7.6
 North Macedonia Skopje 506,926[Note 3] Bitola 105,644 4.8
 Bulgaria Sofia 1,681,666 Plovdiv 544,628 3.1
 Estonia Tallinn 437,619 Tartu 95,009 4.6
 Albania Tirana 800,986 Durrës 201,110 4.0
 Austria Vienna[24][25][28] 2,600,000 Graz 652,654 4.0
 Croatia Zagreb 1,113,111 Split 349,314 3.2
 Czech Republic Prague 2,709,418 Brno 696,413 3.9
 Sweden Stockholm 2,440,027 Gothenburg 1,058,278 2.3

In Germany, Munich (city proper population ca 1.5 million, with surrounding Landkreise ~3 million) is the primate city of the state of Bavaria, having nearly three times the population than the state's second largest, Nuremberg (ca 500,000 people, metro area ~1.35 million). Likewise, in Hesse, Frankfurt (~750,000 people) is nearly three times larger than the state's second largest, Wiesbaden (~275,000) and they are both part of the Rhine-Main metropolitan area, the largest city outside of the area, Kassel, has a population of ca. 200,000 people.[29]

In Italy, primate cities exist at regional level: capital Rome (~2.7 million) alone has nearly half of the population of the Lazio region and is about 21 times larger than the second largest city Latina, and nearly three quarters of the region's population live in the Metropolitan City of Rome Capital. In Lombardy, Milan at ~1.35 million is seven times larger than second largest Brescia (ca 200,000); in Piedmont, Turin has eight-nine times the population of Novara and Alessandria; in Campania, Naples has 7 times the population of second-largest Salerno and in Liguria, Genoa at ~550,000 has six times the population of second largest La Spezia and the Metropolitan City of Genoa has three times the population of Province of Savona.[30]

North and Central America[edit]

Country Primate city/urban area Population Second largest city/urban area Population Relative primacy
 Saint Kitts and Nevis Basseterre 13,000 Sandy Point Town 3,140 4.1
 Barbados Bridgetown 110,000 Oistins 3,000 36.7
 Saint Lucia Castries 70,000 Gros Islet 22,647 3.1
 Dominican Republic Santo Domingo 2,908,607 Santiago de los Caballeros 553,091 5.3
 Guatemala Guatemala City[23][28] 2,749,161 Quetzaltenango 792,530 3.5
 Cuba Havana 2,106,146 Santiago de Cuba 433,099 4.9
 Jamaica Kingston 584,627 Portmore 182,153 3.2
 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Kingstown 16,500 Georgetown 1,700 9.7
 Nicaragua Managua[23] 1,401,687 León 206,264 12.4
 Mexico Mexico City[23][26][28] 20,400,000 Monterrey 5,370,466 4.1
 Bahamas Nassau 274,400 Freeport 26,914 10.2
 Panama Panama City[24] 880,691 La Chorrera 118,521 7.4
 Haiti Port-au-Prince[24] 2,618,894 Cap-Haïtien 274,404 9.5
 Dominica Roseau 16,582 Portsmouth 2,977 5.6
 Costa Rica San José[24][23][28] 2,158,898 Puerto Limón 58,522 36.9
 El Salvador San Salvador[23][28] 2,406,709 Santa Ana 374,830 10.0
 Grenada St. George's 33,734 Grenville 2,400 14.1
 Antigua and Barbuda St. John's 81,799 Liberta 3,301 24.8

Although Belize does not have a primate city, Belize City is more than twice the size of San Ignacio, the country's second-largest city/urban area. It is also the cultural and economic centre of Belize. The capital is Belmopan, third-largest in the country.

In the United States, many primate cities exist at state level. In California, Los Angeles (4 million) has nearly three times the population of second-largest San Diego; likewise in Illinois, Chicago has 15 times the population of second-largest Aurora, which itself is a suburb of Chicago, and 18 times the population of Rockford, which is the state's fifth-largest city and the largest outside of Chicago metropolitan area that makes up nearly two thirds of the state population. In New York, New York City at 8.8 million has 31 times the population of second-largest Buffalo, and Erie County where Buffalo is located is at ~950,000 the eighth largest in the state (four of which comprise boroughs of NYC), but the largest outside of NYC-Long Island area.[31]


Country Primate city/urban area Population Second largest city/urban area Population Relative primacy
 Samoa Apia 36,735 Afega 1,781 20.6
 Tuvalu Funafuti 6,025 Asau 650 9.3
 Solomon Islands Honiara 64,609 Auki 7,785 8.3
 Tonga Nukuʻalofa 24,571 Neiafu (Vavaʻu) 6,000 4.1
 Papua New Guinea Port Moresby 410,954 Lae 76,255 5.4
 Fiji Suva 175,399 Lautoka 52,220 3.4
 Kiribati South Tarawa 50,182 Abaiang 5,502 9.1
New Zealand New Zealand Auckland 1,715,600 Christchurch 381,500 4.5

Australia does not have a primate city, but at the state level, each of the capital cities of the states and territories act as the primate city of that state or territory.

South America[edit]

Country Primate city/urban area Population Second largest city/urban area Population Relative primacy
 Colombia Bogotá 10,700,000 Medellín 3,591,963 3.0
 Paraguay Gran Asunción[24] 2,698,401 Ciudad del Este 293,817 9.2
 Argentina Buenos Aires[26][28] 12,741,364 Córdoba 1,528,000 8.3
 Guyana Georgetown 118,363 Linden 29,298 4.0
 Peru Lima[28] 9,752,000 Arequipa 1,034,736 9.4
 Uruguay Montevideo[24][28] 1,947,604 Salto 104,028 18.7
 Suriname Paramaribo 240,924 Lelydorp 19,910 12.1
 Chile Santiago[24] 6,685,685 Valparaíso 1,036,127 6.5

Partially recognized states[edit]

This list only includes cities that the breakaway state controls.

Country Primate city/urban area Population Second largest city/urban area Population Relative primacy
 South Ossetia Tskhinvali 32,180 Kvaisa 2,264 14.2
 Artsakh Stepanakert 75,000 Martuni 5,700 13.2
 SADR Laayoune 217,732 Dakhla 106,277 2.0
 Transnistria Tiraspol 133,807 Rîbnița 47,949 2.8
 Abkhazia Sukhumi 65,439 Gudauta 8,514 7.8

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tiraspol is controlled and claimed by the unrecognised Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, the largest city and capital within the PMR (Transnistria). Otherwise, the second largest city controlled by Moldova, and the third largest within its recognised borders is Bălți, with a population of 102,457. The de facto relative primacy would therefore be 7.18.
  2. ^ refers to Capital Region (Iceland)
  3. ^ based on North Macedonia#Cities


  1. ^ Latin: 'prime', 'first rank'Primate. Retrieved 2008-07-21. {{cite encyclopedia}}: |work= ignored (help)
    From Old French or French primat, from a noun use of Latin primat-, from primus
  2. ^ a b Goodall, B. (1987). The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography. London: Penguin.
  3. ^ "GaWC Research Bulletin 186".
  4. ^ "The Law of the Primate City and the Rank-Size Rule, by Matt Rosenberg".
  5. ^ a b Jefferson, Mark (April 1939). "The Law of the Primate City". Geographical Review. 29 (29): 226–232. doi:10.2307/209944. JSTOR 209944.
  6. ^ Kotlyakov, Vladimir; Komarova, Anna (2007), Elsevier's Dictionary of Geography: in English, Russian, French, Spanish and German (1st ed.), North Holland, p. 776
  7. ^ Davis, James C.; Henderson, J.Vernon (1 October 2003). "Evidence on the political economy of the urbanization process". Journal of Urban Economics. 53 (1): 98–125. doi:10.1016/S0094-1190(02)00504-1. What is available and what is utilized in all studies other than Wheaton and Shishido [67] is some measure of urban primacy—here measured as the share of the largest city in national urban population.
  8. ^ Jefferson, Mark (1939). "The Law of the Primate City". Geographical Review. 29 (2): 226–232. doi:10.2307/209944. ISSN 0016-7428. JSTOR 209944. In Denmark the less-than-a-million capital, Copenhagen, has won greater relative primacy. It is nine times as large as Denmark's second town.
  9. ^ London, Bruce (October 1977). "Is the Primate City Parasitic? The Regional Implications of National Decision Making in Thailand". The Journal of Developing Areas. 12: 49–68 – via JSTOR.
  10. ^ Brunn, Stanley, et al. Cities of the World. Boulder: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2003
  11. ^ Taşan-Kok, Tuna (2004). Mexico, Istanbul and Warsaw: Institutional and spatial change. Eburon Uitgeverij. p. 41. ISBN 978-905972041-1. Retrieved 2013-05-21.
  12. ^ "What Is A Primate City?". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2018-11-21.
  13. ^ Pacione, Michael (2005). Urban Geography: A Global Perspective (2nd ed.). Abingdon: Routledge. pp. 83.
  14. ^ "Revised Delineations of Metropolitan Statistical Areas, Micropolitan Statistical Areas, and Combined Statistical Areas, and Guidance on Uses of the Delineations of These Areas" (PDF). Executive Office of the President - Office of Management and Budget. p. 106. Retrieved July 29, 2014.
  15. ^ Baker, Chris; Pasuk Phongpaichit (2009). A History of Thailand (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 199. ISBN 978-0-521-76768-2.
  16. ^ a b "Chiang Mai, Thailand Metro Area Population 1950-2022, Data provided by the United Nations' Department of Economic and Social Affairs - Population Division". Retrieved 2022-05-14.
  17. ^ a b "Department of Provincial Administration (DOPA), Population data for the year 2022" (in Thai). Retrieved 2023-06-21.
  18. ^ Fong, Jack (May 2012). "Political Vulnerabilities of a Primate City: The May 2010 Red Shirts Uprising in Bangkok, Thailand". Journal of Asian and African Studies. 48 (3): 332–347. doi:10.1177/0021909612453981. S2CID 145515713.
  19. ^ "A 3-Hour Commute: A close look at Moscow the Megapolis". Strelka Mag. Retrieved 2021-02-02.
  20. ^ "Severo-Zapadnyj Federal'nyj Okrug / Northwestern Russia (Russia): Regions, Republics, Major Cities & Urban Settlements - Population Statistics, Maps, Charts, Weather and Web Information". Retrieved 2021-02-02.
  21. ^ Argenbright, Robert (2013-01-01). "Moscow on the Rise: From Primate City to Megaregion". Geographical Review. 103 (1): 20–36. doi:10.1111/j.1931-0846.2013.00184.x. ISSN 0016-7428. S2CID 155003653.
  22. ^ a b "World Gazetteer: World Gazetteer home". 2013-02-09. Archived from the original on 2013-02-09. Retrieved 2020-04-09.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "2020-10-06". (in Norwegian). Retrieved 2020-11-17.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u World Urbanization Prospects: The 2003 Revision. United Nations Publications. 1 January 2004. pp. 97–102. ISBN 978-92-1-151396-7.
  25. ^ a b c Michael Pacione (2009). Urban Geography: A Global Perspective. Taylor & Francis. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-415-46201-3.
  26. ^ a b c d e Kelly Swanson (7 August 2012). Kaplan AP Human Geography 2013-2014. Kaplan Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60978-694-6.
  27. ^ Census Report. The 2014 Myanmar Population and Housing Census. Vol. 2. Naypyitaw: Ministry of Immigration and Population. May 2015. p. 31-57.
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Robert B. Kent (January 2006). Latin America: Regions and People. Guilford Press. pp. 144–. ISBN 978-1-57230-909-8.
  29. ^ "Germany: States, Districts, Counties, Cities, Communes, Agglomerations, Settlements, City Quarters - Population Statistics in Maps and Charts". Retrieved 2023-09-18.
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  31. ^ "USA: States, Counties, Cities, Places, Urban Areas & Metropolitan Areas - Population Statistics in Maps and Charts". Retrieved 2023-09-18.