Do Big Cities Make a Country Richer?

This is a bit out of the blue, but earlier today I was pondering the idea that big cities make a country more prosperous. One way of looking at this is to do a simple comparison of the countries of the world based on their productivity and their degree of urbanization. “Urbanization” isn’t precisely defined, which makes this pretty rough but still sort of interesting. Here’s the comparison for a wide assortment of countries whose productivity is measured by the Conference Board and Eurostat:

Sure enough, higher urbanization = higher GDP. But here it is for a smaller selection of rich countries:

Urbanization does seem to be associated with higher productivity if you compare across all countries, but the effect disappears at about $35 per hour worked. Above that level—and above 50 percent urbanization—the association disappears.

There are probably lots of ways to tweak this to show whatever you want, and this kind of crude scatterplot isn’t something to be taken too seriously. Still, I was surprised that even in a simple plot like this there was no association at all. Take it for what it’s worth.


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.