Primate city

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A primate city (Latin: 'prime', 'first rank'[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 serves as a primate city is London in the United Kingdom. London serves as the primate city of the United Kingdom due to the unmatched economic, political, cultural, and educational influence that the city possesses in comparison to other British cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, or Edinburgh. However, not all regions or countries will even possess a primate city. The United States has never had a primate city on a national scale due to the decentralized nature of the country.[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.

Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, has been called "the most primate city on Earth",[14] being roughly thirty-five times larger than Thailand's second-largest city of Chiang Mai.[15] 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" for national targets to be contested since they are all in one major urban environment.[16]

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,[17][18] and plays a unique and uncontested role of the cultural and political center of the country.[19] It can therefore be considered to be a primate city.



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[20] Brikama 101,119[20] 5.1
 Guinea-Bissau Bissau 492,004 Gabu 48,670 10.1
 Egypt Cairo[21] 9,539,673 Alexandria 5,200,000 3.9
 Guinea Conakry[22] 1,660,973 Nzérékoré 195,027 8.5
 Senegal Dakar[22] 2,646,503 Touba 753,315 3.5
 Djibouti Djibouti City 475,322 Ali Sabieh 37,939 12.5
 Sierra Leone Freetown[22] 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[22] 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
 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

Burundi, Nigeria, and Tanzania do not have a primate city, because their capital is not the largest city. But their largest city is more than twice the population of the second-largest city/urban area and is the economic and cultural center of their country.


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[21][23][24] 8,305,218 Chiang Mai 970,000 17.6
 Lebanon Beirut[22] 2,781,000 Tripoli 365,000 7.6
 Kyrgyzstan Bishkek[22] 1,297,000 Osh 282,000 4.6
 Bangladesh Dhaka 15,443,000 Chittagong 3,913,000 3.9
 Timor-Leste Dili 235,000 Baucau 15,000 15.7
 Tajikistan Dushanbe 1,390,000 Khujand 182,000 7.6
 Indonesia Jakarta 10,562,088 Surabaya 2,817,314 5.3
 Afghanistan Kabul[22] 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[22] 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[22] 2,177,000 Siem Reap 140,000 15.6
 North Korea Pyongyang 2,228,000 Hamhung 535,000 4.2
 South Korea Seoul 21,794,000 Busan 3,286,000 6.6
 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
 Japan Tokyo 13,960,236 Yokohama 3,732,616 3.7
 Laos Vientiane 1,058,000 Savannakhet 120,000 8.8
 Mongolia Ulaanbaatar[22] 1,508,000 Erdenet 100,000 15.1
 Armenia Yerevan[22] 1,403,000 Gyumri 130,000 10.8

Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates do not have a primate city, because their capital is not the largest city. But their largest city is more than twice the population of the second-largest city/urban area, and is the economic and cultural center of their country.

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[22][21] 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[25] 3,303,786 Debrecen 237,888 13.9
 Moldova Chișinău 736,100 Tiraspol 135,700 5.4
 Denmark Copenhagen[21][25] 2,016,285 Aarhus 330,639 6.1
 Ireland Dublin[22][25] 1,904,806 Cork 399,216 4.8
 Finland Helsinki 1,522,694 Tampere 385,610 3.9
 United Kingdom London[24][25] 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
 Russia Moscow 12,506,468[26] Saint Petersburg 5,351,935 3.7
 Norway Oslo[21] 1,036,059 Bergen 259,958 4.0
 France Paris[21][23][24][25] 12,405,426 Lyon 2,237,676 5.5
 Iceland Reykjavík 209,680[Note 1] Akureyri 18,191 11.5
 Latvia Riga[22][21] 627,487 Daugavpils 82,046 7.6
 North Macedonia Skopje 506,926[Note 2] 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[22][23][25] 2,600,000 Graz 269,997 9.6
 Slovenia Ljubljana 537,893 Maribor 112,682 4.8
 Croatia Zagreb 1,113,111 Split 349,314 3.2

North America & 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[21][25] 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[21] 2,560,789 León 206,264 12.4
 Mexico Mexico City[21][24][25] 20,400,000 Guadalajara 5,002,466 4.1
 Bahamas Nassau 274,400 Freeport 26,914 10.2
 Panama Panama City[22] 880,691 La Chorrera 118,521 7.4
 Haiti Port-au-Prince[22] 2,618,894 Cap-Haïtien 274,404 9.5
 Dominica Roseau 16,582 Portsmouth 2,977 5.6
 Costa Rica San José[22][21][25] 2,158,898 Puerto Limón 58,522 36.9
 El Salvador San Salvador[21][25] 1,767,102 Santa Ana 176,661 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 center of Belize. The capital is Belmopan, third-largest in the country.


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 does not have a primate city as its largest city is not the capital (which is Wellington), although Auckland is more than twice the size the country's second-largest city/urban area and is the cultural and economic center of New Zealand.

South America[edit]

Country Primate city/urban area Population Second largest city/urban area Population Relative primacy
 Colombia Bogota 10,700,000 Medellín 3,591,963 3.0
 Paraguay Gran Asunción[22] 2,698,401 Ciudad del Este 293,817 9.2
 Argentina Buenos Aires[24][25] 12,741,364 Córdoba 1,528,000 8.3
 Guyana Georgetown 118,363 Linden 29,298 4.0
 Peru Lima[25] 9,752,000 Arequipa 1,034,736 9.4
 Uruguay Montevideo[22][25] 1,947,604 Salto 104,028 18.7
 Suriname Paramaribo 240,924 Lelydorp 19,910 12.1
 Chile Santiago[22] 6,685,685 Valparaíso 1,036,127 6.5

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Primate". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2008-07-21.
    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. "The Law of the Primate City", in Geographical Review 29 (April 1939)
  6. ^ Vladimir Kotlyakov; Anna Komarova (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. ^ "The World According to GaWC 2012". Globalization and World Cities Research Network. Loughborough University. Retrieved 11 January 2017.
  13. ^ Pacione, Michael (2005). Urban Geography: A Global Perspective (2nd ed.). Abingdon: Routledge. pp. 83.
  14. ^ Baker, Chris; Pasuk Phongpaichit (2009). A history of Thailand (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 199. ISBN 978-0-521-76768-2.
  15. ^ ข้อมูลจำนวนองค์กรปกครองส่วนท้องถิ่น [Information on the number of local administrative organizations]. Department of Local Administration (Thailand). 2017-12-01. Retrieved 2019-01-05.[not specific enough to verify]
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ "A 3-Hour Commute: A close look at Moscow the Megapolis". Strelka Mag. Retrieved 2021-02-02.
  18. ^ "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.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ a b "World Gazetteer: World Gazetteer home". 2013-02-09. Archived from the original on 2013-02-09. Retrieved 2020-04-09.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "2020-10-06". (in Norwegian). Retrieved 2020-11-17.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ a b c Michael Pacione (2009). Urban Geography: A Global Perspective. Taylor & Francis. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-415-46201-3.
  24. ^ a b c d e Kelly Swanson (7 August 2012). Kaplan AP Human Geography 2013-2014. Kaplan Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60978-694-6.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ "A 3-Hour Commute: A close look at Moscow the Megapolis". Strelka Mag. Retrieved 2021-02-03.