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The Age of the City-State: Which Cities Most Dominate Their Countries?

This article, co-authored by Nick Mead, is cross-posted with special permission from The Guardian.

It is frequently cited that more than half of us now live in cities. But it might come as more of a surprise to learn that the largest 300 cities, from New York to Guangzhou, account for nearly half (48%) of world economic output… yet contain only 19% of world population.

Some cities are so powerful economically that they dwarf the rest of their country. The number of jobs they house and GDP they generate can account for almost half of their nations’ output, if not more. They are no longer just cities: they are approaching the status of city-state.

London, for example, produces more than 30% of Britain’s entire GDP. Neither is it the most extreme example: it is just 30th on our list of cities that most dominate their countries (see below).

The ranking is led by the “classic” city-states—Luxembourg, Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore, places where the city essentially is the country. But look at Brussels (59% of national GDP), Copenhagen (55%) or Tel Aviv (54%). Is it time we start calling them city-states, too?

City employment and GDP as a percentage of country employment and GDP. Source: Brookings analysis of data from Oxford Economics, Moody’s Analytics and the US Census Bureau

(Note that in a small number of cases, the metro area boundaries extend beyond country borders. This explains why the GDP and employment of Luxembourg City actually exceed those of Luxembourg country. You could almost say Luxembourg country is a “state-city”. More detail here.)

What’s more, even the smaller cities may be on their way toward city-statehood: according to Brookings’ Global Metro Monitor, between 2011-12 most cities in the world grew faster than their countries, either in jobs or GDP.


Metro Area

American metro areas that outperformed their countries… Brookings Global MetroMonitor
European, African and Asian metro areas that ourperformed their countries… Brookings Global MetroMonitor
Brookings Metromonitr

Europe in details… Brookings Global MetroMonitor

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