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A primate city (Latin: "prime, first rank")[1] is the largest city in its country or region, 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 economic influence, a primate city will usually have precedence in all other aspects of its country's society, such as being a center of politics, media, culture and education and receive most internal migration.



Countries / regions colored in red have no primate city.[citation needed]

Not all countries have primate cities, but in those that do, there is debate as to whether the city serves a parasitic or generative function[6]. 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.[7] However, the urban structure is not directly dependent on a country's level of economic development.[2]

Many of the primate cities are increasing their percentage of their country's population. This can be because the number of traditional workers have been reduced because of mechanization in the manufacturing industry, agriculture, and other blue-collar industries, which are generally located throughout all of the country. At the same time, the number of educated employees in service business such as politics, economy, culture, media, and higher education has been rising, and those sectors are often located in the capital where the power and money is concentrated.


Many alpha world cities are considered national and/or regional primate cities.[5][8] They include the two alpha++ world cities of London in the United Kingdom (national) and New York City in the United States (regional), though the U.S. has never had any primate city on a national scale.[9] In addition, for example Budapest, Jakarta, Lima, Mexico City, and Seoul have also been described as primate cities within their respective countries.[10]

Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, has been called "the most primate city on Earth", being roughly thirty-five times larger than Thailand's second-largest city of Nakhon Ratchasima.[11] 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, Fong's study noted that when primate cities like Bangkok function as national capitals, they are inherently vulnerable to insurrectionary dynamics by the subaltern, and the dispossessed. He cites the simple 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 located within one major urban environment.[12]

Urban primacyEdit

Urban primacy indicates the ratio of the primate city to the next largest i.e the second largest in a country or region. In other words, urban primacy can be defined as the central place in an urban or city network that has acquired or obtained a great level of dominance. The level of dominance is measured by population density and the number of functions offered. Higher functions and population will result in higher dominance[citation needed]




City / Urban Area Country Population (metropolitan area) Second largest city Population
Amman   Jordan 2,125,000 Zarqa 635,160
Ashgabat   Turkmenistan
Baghdad   Iraq 13,500,000 Basrah 8,765,000
Bandar Seri Begawan   Brunei
Bangkok[15][16][17][18]   Thailand 14,626,225 Chiang Mai 131,000
Baku[13]   Azerbaijan 4,670,740 Ganja 2,262,600
Beirut[13]   Lebanon 2,200,000 Tripoli 361,366
Bishkek[13]   Kyrgyzstan
Colombo   Sri Lanka 648,034 Kaduwela 262,456
Dhaka   Bangladesh 20,000,000 Chittagong 8,906,039
Dili   East Timor
Doha   Qatar 1,850,000 Al Rayyan 956,457
Dushanbe   Tajikistan
Jakarta   Indonesia 30,214,303 Surabaya 13,123,948
Kabul[13]   Afghanistan
Kathmandu     Nepal 975,453 Pokhara 402,995
Kuala Lumpur   Malaysia 7,200,000 George Town 2,412,616
Kuwait City[13]   Kuwait
Malé   Maldives 133,412 Addu City 33,694
Manila[19]   Philippines 16,500,000 Cebu 1,500,000
Muscat   Oman
Phnom Penh[13]   Cambodia
Pyongyang   North Korea 3,222,000 Hamhung 559,056
Seoul[18]   South Korea 25,600,000 Busan 9,838,892
Tashkent   Uzbekistan
Tbilisi   Georgia
Thimpu   Bhutan
Tehran   Iran 15,232,564 Mashhad 3,372,660
Tokyo   Japan 37,832,892 Osaka 2,668586
Vientiane   Laos
Ulaanbaatar[13]   Mongolia
Yangon   Myanmar
Yerevan[13]   Armenia

Information is taken from and sourced in the linked articles.


City Country Population (metropolitan area) Second largest city Population
Andorra la Vella   Andorra 36,000[Note 1] Encamp 13,521
Athens [13][15]   Greece 3,753,783 Thessaloniki 1,084,001
Belgrade   Serbia 1,659,440 Novi Sad 341,625
Bucharest   Romania 2,272,163 Cluj-Napoca 411,379
Budapest [20]   Hungary 3,303,786 Debrecen 237,888
Chișinău   Moldova 736,100 Tiraspol 135,700
Copenhagen [15][20]   Denmark 2,016,285 Aarhus 330,639
Dublin [13][20]   Ireland 1,904,806 Cork 399,216
Helsinki   Finland 1,441,601 Tampere 363,546
Ljubljana   Slovenia 537,712 Maribor 95,881
London [17][20]   United Kingdom 13,879,757 Birmingham 1,137,100
Luxembourg   Luxembourg 107,247 Esch-sur-Alzette 32,600
Minsk   Belarus 2,101,018 Gomel 526,872
Oslo [15]   Norway 1,717,900 Bergen 420,000
Paris [15][16][17][20]   France 12,405,426 Marseille
Podgorica   Montenegro 187,085 Nikšić 72,443
Prague   Czech Republic 2,156,097 Brno 810,000
Reykjavík   Iceland 209,680[Note 2] Akureyri 18,191
Riga [13][15]   Latvia 1,018,295 Daugavpils 96,818
Sarajevo   Bosnia and Herzegovina 463,992 Banja Luka 185,042
Skopje   North Macedonia 506,926[Note 3] Bitola 105,644
Sofia   Bulgaria 1,681,666 Plovdiv 544,628
Stockholm   Sweden 2,226,795 Gothenburg 1,001,032
Tallinn   Estonia 542,983 Tartu 93,687
Tirana   Albania 800,986 Durrës 201,110
Vienna [13][16][20]   Austria 2,600,000 Graz 269,997
Zagreb   Croatia 1,113,111 Split 349,314

Information is taken from and sourced in the linked articles.

North AmericaEdit

City Country Population (metropolitan area) Second largest city Population
Basseterre   Saint Kitts and Nevis 13,000
Belize City   Belize 60,963
Bridgetown   Barbados 110,000
Castries   Saint Lucia 70,000
Santo Domingo   Dominican Republic 2,908,607
Guatemala City metropolitan area[15][20]   Guatemala 2,749,161
Havana   Cuba 2,106,146
Kingston   Jamaica 584,627
Kingstown   Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 16,500
Managua[15]   Nicaragua 2,560,789
Mexico City[15][17][20]   Mexico 20,400,000 Guadalajara 5,002,466
Nassau   Bahamas 274,400
Panama City[13]   Panama 880,691
Port of Spain   Trinidad and Tobago 128,026
Port-au-Prince[13]   Haiti 2,618,894
Roseau   Dominica 16,582
San José[13][15][20]   Costa Rica 2,158,898
San Juan[13]   Puerto Rico 2,350,126
San Salvador[15][20]   El Salvador 1,767,102
St. George's   Grenada 33,734
St. John's   Antigua and Barbuda 81,799


City Country Population (metropolitan area) Second largest city Population
Apia   Samoa 36,735 Afega 1,781
Funafuti   Tuvalu 6,025 Asau 650
Honiara   Solomon Islands 64,609 Auki 7,785
Koror   Palau 14,000 Airai 2,700
Majuro   Marshall Islands 27,797 Ebeye Island 15,000
Noumea   New Caledonia 179,509 Lifou 9,245
Nukuʻalofa   Tonga 24,571
Port Moresby   Papua New Guinea 410,954 Lae 76,255
Port-Vila   Vanuatu 44,040
Suva   Fiji 175,399 Lautoka 52,220
South Tarawa   Kiribati 50,182 Abaiang 5,502

South AmericaEdit

City Country Population (metropolitan area) Second largest city Population
Gran Asunción[13]   Paraguay 2,698,401 Ciudad del Este 293,817
Buenos Aires[17][20]   Argentina 12,741,364 Córdoba 1,528,000
Georgetown   Guyana 118,363 Linden 29,298
Lima[20]   Peru 9,752,000 Trujillo 949,498
Montevideo[13][20]   Uruguay 1,947,604 Salto 104,028
Paramaribo   Suriname 240,924 Lelydorp 19,910
Santiago Metropolitan Region[13]   Chile 6,685,685 Valparaíso 1,036,127


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Primate". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2008-07-21.
    From Old French or Frenchprimat, from a noun use of Latin primat-, from primus ("prime, first rank")
  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. ^ London, Bruce (Oct 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.
  7. ^ Brunn, Stanley et al. Cities of the World. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2003
  8. ^ Taşan-Kok, Tuna (2004). Mexico, Istanbul and Warsaw: Institutional and spatial change. Eburon Uitgeverij. p. 41. ISBN 978-905972041-1. Retrieved 2013-05-21.
  9. ^ "The World According to GaWC 2012". Globalization and World Cities Research Network. Loughborough University. Retrieved 11 January 2017.
  10. ^ Pacione, Michael (2005). Urban Geography: A Global Perspective (2nd ed.). Abingdon: Routledge. p. 83.
  11. ^ 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]
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x World Urbanization Prospects: The 2003 Revision. United Nations Publications. 1 January 2004. pp. 97–102. ISBN 978-92-1-151396-7.
  14. ^ a b c Cite error: The named reference Tarver1996 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Joseph John Hobbs (2009). World Regional Geography. Cengage Learning. pp. 109–. ISBN 978-0-495-38950-7.
  16. ^ a b c Michael Pacione (2009). Urban Geography: A Global Perspective. Taylor & Francis. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-415-46201-3.
  17. ^ a b c d e Kelly Swanson (7 August 2012). Kaplan AP Human Geography 2013-2014. Kaplan Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60978-694-6.
  18. ^ a b Cite error: The named reference Dutt1994 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  19. ^ "East Asia's Changing Urban Landscape" (PDF). World Bank. Retrieved March 21, 2019.
  20. ^ 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.