Primate city

Metropolitan area Global city Mexico City
Countries without a primate city highlighted in red.

A primate city (Latin: 'prime', 'first rank'[1]) is the largest city in its country, province, state, 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.


Not all countries have primate cities. 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 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, culture, media, and higher education rises, with those sectors clustered predominantly in the capital where power and money is concentrated.[citation needed]


Some global cities are considered national or regional primate cities.[5][8] They include the two global cities of London in the United Kingdom (national) and New York City in the United States (regional). The U.S. has never had a primate city on a national scale.[9] Budapest, Jakarta, Lima, Mexico City, Seoul, and Tokyo have also been described as primate cities in their respective countries.[10] Subnational divisions can also have primate cities.

Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, has been called "the most primate city on Earth",[11] being roughly thirty-five times larger than Thailand's second-largest city of Nakhon Ratchasima.[12] 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.[13]

Urban primacy

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
Addis Ababa  Ethiopia 3,352,000 Adama 342,940
Algiers  Algeria 7,896,923 Oran 1,560,329
Antananarivo  Madagascar 1,275,207 Toamasina 300,813
Asmara  Eritrea 650,000 Keren 82,198
Bamako  Mali 1,810,366 Sikasso 226,618
Bangui  Central African Republic 622,771 Bimbo 124,176
Banjul-Serekunda area  Gambia 519,835[14] Brikama 101,119[14]
Bissau  Guinea-Bissau 492,004 Gabu 48,670
Cairo[15]  Egypt 20,439,541 Alexandria 5,200,000
Conakry[16]  Guinea 1,660,973 Nzérékoré 195,027
Dakar[16]  Senegal 2,646,503 Touba 753,315
Djibouti City  Djibouti 475,322 Ali Sabieh 37,939
Freetown[16]  Sierra Leone 1,500,234 Bo 233,684
Gaborone  Botswana 421,907 Francistown 150,800
Harare  Zimbabwe 1,619,000 Bulawayo 653,337
Kampala  Uganda 1,507,080 Nansana 365,124
Kigali  Rwanda 1,132,686 Butare 89,600
Kinshasa  Democratic Republic of the Congo 11,855,000 Lubumbashi 1,630,186
Libreville  Gabon 703,904 Port Gentil 136,462
Lomé  Togo 1,477,660 Sokodé 118,000
Luanda[16]  Angola 8,069,612 Lubango 903,564
Lusaka  Zambia 2,238,569 Kitwe 522,092
Maputo  Mozambique 1,766,823 Nampula 743,125
Maseru  Lesotho 330,760 Teyateyaneng 75,115
Monrovia  Liberia 1,101,970 Ganta 41,106
N'Djamena  Chad 1,605,696 Moundou 137,929
Nairobi  Kenya 9,354,580 Mombasa 3,528,940
Niamey  Niger 1,243,500 Zinder 235,605
Nouakchott  Mauritania 958,399 Nouadhibou 118,167
Omdurman-Khartoum area  Sudan 5,490,000 Port Sudan 489,725
Ouagadougou  Burkina Faso 2,500,000 Bobo Dioulaso 537,728
Port Louis  Mauritius 149,194 Beau Bassin-Rose Hill 104,610
São Tomé  São Tomé and Príncipe 71,868 Santo Amaro 8,239
Tunis  Tunisia 2,643,695 Sfax 330,440
Victoria  Seychelles 26,450 Anse Boileau 4,093
Windhoek  Namibia 325,858 Walvis Bay 62,096

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, and is the economic and cultural center of their country.


City / Urban Area Country Population (metropolitan area) Second largest city Population
Amman  Jordan 4,425,000 Irbid 750,000
Ashgabat  Turkmenistan 1,168,000 Türkmenabat 253,000
Baku  Azerbaijan 2,934,000 Ganja 335,000
Bandar Seri Begawan  Brunei 280,000 Kuala Belait 70,000
Bangkok[15][17][18]  Thailand 17,066,000 Chiang Mai 970,000
Beirut[16]  Lebanon 2,781,000 Tripoli 365,000
Bishkek[16]  Kyrgyzstan 1,297,000 Osh 282,000
Dhaka  Bangladesh 15,443,000 Chittagong 3,913,000
Dili  Timor-Leste 235,000 Baucau 15,000
Doha  Qatar 1,850,000 Al Rayyan 960,000
Dushanbe  Tajikistan 1,390,000 Khujand 182,000
Jakarta  Indonesia 34,540,000 Surabaya 6,499,000
Kabul[16]  Afghanistan 4,834,000 Kandahar 570,000
Kathmandu    Nepal 3,941,000 Pokhara 403,000
Kuala Lumpur  Malaysia 8,285,000 George Town 1,320,000
Kuwait City[16]  Kuwait 4,022,000 Al Jahra 400,000
Malé  Maldives 135,000 Addu City 34,000
Manila  Philippines 23,088,000 Cebu City 2,275,000
Muscat  Oman 1,205,000 Salalah 340,000
Phnom Penh[16]  Cambodia 2,177,000 Siem Reap 140,000
Pyongyang  North Korea 2,228,000 Hamhung 535,000
Seoul  South Korea 21,794,000 Busan 3,286,000
Tashkent  Uzbekistan 3,492,000 Samarkand 1,201,000
Tbilisi  Georgia 1,207,000 Batumi 200,000
Thimphu  Bhutan 115,000 Phuntsholing 28,000
Tehran  Iran 13,633,000 Mashhad 3,167,000
Tokyo  Japan 37,977,000 Kyoto–Osaka–Kobe 14,977,000
Vientiane  Laos 1,058,000 Savannakhet 120,000
Ulaanbaatar[16]  Mongolia 1,508,000 Erdenet 100,000
Yerevan[16]  Armenia 1,403,000 Gyumri 130,000

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, and is the economic and cultural center of their country.


City / Urban Area Country Population (metropolitan area) Second largest city Population
Andorra la Vella  Andorra 36,000[Note 1] Encamp 13,521
Athens[16][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[19]  Hungary 3,303,786 Debrecen 237,888
Chișinău  Moldova 736,100 Tiraspol 135,700
Copenhagen[15][19]  Denmark 2,016,285 Aarhus 330,639
Dublin[16][19]  Ireland 1,904,806 Cork 399,216
Helsinki  Finland 1,441,601 Tampere 363,546
London[18][19]  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
Moscow  Russia 12,506,468 Saint Petersburg 5,351,935
Oslo[15]  Norway 1,717,900 Bergen 420,000
Paris[15][17][18][19]  France 12,405,426 Lyon 2,237,676
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[16][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
Tallinn  Estonia 542,983 Tartu 93,687
Tirana  Albania 800,986 Durrës 201,110
Vienna[16][17][19]  Austria 2,600,000 Graz 269,997
Zagreb  Croatia 1,113,111 Split 349,314

North America & Central America

City / Urban Area Country Population (metropolitan area) Second largest city Population
Basseterre  Saint Kitts and Nevis 13,000 Sandy Point Town 3,140
Bridgetown  Barbados 110,000 Oistins 3,000
Castries  Saint Lucia 70,000 Gros Islet 22,647
Santo Domingo  Dominican Republic 2,908,607 Santiago de los Caballeros 553,091
Guatemala City[15][19]  Guatemala 2,749,161 Quetzaltenango 792,530
Havana  Cuba 2,106,146 Santiago de Cuba 433,099
Kingston  Jamaica 584,627 Portmore 182,153
Kingstown  Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 16,500 Georgetown 1,700
Managua[15]  Nicaragua 2,560,789 León 206,264
Mexico City[15][18][19]  Mexico 20,400,000 Guadalajara 5,002,466
Nassau  Bahamas 274,400 Freeport 26,914
Panama City[16]  Panama 880,691 La Chorrera 118,521
Port-au-Prince[16]  Haiti 2,618,894 Cap-Haïtien 274,404
Roseau  Dominica 16,582 Portsmouth 2,977
San José[16][15][19]  Costa Rica 2,158,898 Puerto Limón 58,522
San Salvador[15][19]  El Salvador 1,767,102 Santa Ana 176,661
St. George's  Grenada 33,734 Grenville 2,400
St. John's  Antigua and Barbuda 81,799 Liberta 3,301

Although Belize does not have a primate city, Belize city is more than twice the size of the second largest city of Belize and is the cultural and economic center of Belize


New Zealand, a small South Pacific country with a legal constitution, does not have a primate city. Though Auckland is more than twice the size the country's second largest and is the cultural and economic center of New Zealand.

City / Urban Area 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
Majuro  Marshall Islands 27,797 Ebeye Island 15,000
Nukuʻalofa  Tonga 24,571 Neiafu (Vavaʻu) 6,000
Port Moresby  Papua New Guinea 410,954 Lae 76,255
Port-Vila  Vanuatu 44,040 Luganville 16,312
Suva  Fiji 175,399 Lautoka 52,220
South Tarawa  Kiribati 50,182 Abaiang 5,502

South America

City / Urban Area Country Population (metropolitan area) Second largest city Population
Bogota  Colombia 10,700,000 Medellín 3,591,963
Gran Asunción[16]  Paraguay 2,698,401 Ciudad del Este 293,817
Buenos Aires[18][19]  Argentina 12,741,364 Córdoba 1,528,000
Georgetown  Guyana 118,363 Linden 29,298
Lima[19]  Peru 9,752,000 Arequipa 1,034,736
Montevideo[16][19]  Uruguay 1,947,604 Salto 104,028
Paramaribo  Suriname 240,924 Lelydorp 19,910
Santiago[16]  Chile 6,685,685 Valparaíso 1,036,127

See also



  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. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Brunn, Stanley, et al. Cities of the World. Boulder: 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. pp. 83.
  11. ^ Baker, Chris; Pasuk Phongpaichit (2009). A history of Thailand (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 199. ISBN 978-0-521-76768-2.
  12. ^ 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]
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ a b "World Gazetteer: World Gazetteer home". 2013-02-09. Archived from the original on 2013-02-09. Retrieved 2020-04-09.
  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 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.
  17. ^ a b c Michael Pacione (2009). Urban Geography: A Global Perspective. Taylor & Francis. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-415-46201-3.
  18. ^ a b c d e Kelly Swanson (7 August 2012). Kaplan AP Human Geography 2013-2014. Kaplan Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60978-694-6.
  19. ^ 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.