Journal of Economic Growth

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 339–368

Agriculture, transportation and the timing of urbanization: Global analysis at the grid cell level

  • Mesbah J. Motamed
  • Raymond J. G. M. Florax
  • William A. Masters

DOI: 10.1007/s10887-014-9104-x

Cite this article as:
Motamed, M.J., Florax, R.J.G.M. & Masters, W.A. J Econ Growth (2014) 19: 339. doi:10.1007/s10887-014-9104-x


This paper addresses the timing of a location’s historical transition from rural to urban activity. We test whether urbanization occurs sooner in places with higher agricultural potential and comparatively lower transport costs, using worldwide data that divide the earth’s surface at half-degree intervals into 62,290 cells. From an independent estimate of each cell’s rural and urban population history over the last 2,000 years, we identify the date at which each cell achieves various thresholds of urbanization. Controlling for unobserved heterogeneity across countries through fixed effects and using a variety of spatial econometric techniques, we find a robust association between earlier urbanization and agro-climatic suitability for cultivation, having seasonal frosts, better access to the ocean or navigable rivers, and lower elevation. These geographic correlations become smaller in magnitude as urbanization proceeds, and there is some variation in the effects across continents. Aggregating cells into countries, we show that an earlier urbanization date is associated with higher per capita income today.


Economic growth Economic geography Urbanization  Agriculture Transportation 

JEL Classification

C21 N50 O11 O18 R1 

Supplementary material (2.3 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (zip 2393 KB)

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mesbah J. Motamed
    • 1
  • Raymond J. G. M. Florax
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • William A. Masters
    • 5
  1. 1.U.S. Department of AgricultureEconomic Research ServiceWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Agricultural EconomicsPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  3. 3.Department of Spatial EconomicsVU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Tinbergen InstituteAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  5. 5.Friedman School of Nutrition and Department of EconomicsTufts UniversityBostonUSA

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