Economic Geography and the Scaling of Urban and Regional Income in India

16 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2019 Last revised: 12 May 2020

See all articles by Anand Sahasranaman

Anand Sahasranaman

Imperial College London - Department of Mathematics

Luís M.A. Bettencourt

University of Chicago; Santa Fe Institute

Date Written: March 27, 2019


We undertake an exploration of the economic income (Gross Domestic Product, GDP) of Indian districts and cities based on scaling analyses of the dependence of these quantities on associated population size. Scaling analysis provides a straightforward method for the identification of network effects in socioeconomic organization, which are the tell-tale of cities and urbanization. For districts, a sub-state regional administrative division in India, we find almost linear scaling of GDP with population, a result quite different from urban functional units in other national contexts. Using deviations from scaling, we explore the behavior of these regional units to find strong distinct geographic patterns of economic behavior. We characterize these patterns in detail and connect them to the literature on regional economic development for a diverse subcontinental nation such as India. Given the paucity of economic data for Urban Agglomerations in India, we use a set of assumptions to create a new dataset of GDP based on districts, for large cities. This reveals superlinear scaling of income with city size, as expected from theory, while displaying similar underlying patterns of economic geography observed for district economic performance. This analysis of the economic performance of Indian cities is severely limited by the absence of higher-fidelity, direct city level economic data. We discuss the need for standardized and consistent estimates of the size and change in urban economies in India, and point to a number of proxies that can be explored to develop such indicators.

Keywords: Urban Economies, Regional Development, Income, GDP, Districts, Urban Agglomeration, Cities, India

Suggested Citation

Sahasranaman, Anand and Bettencourt, Luís M.A., Economic Geography and the Scaling of Urban and Regional Income in India (March 27, 2019). Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation Research Paper, Available at SSRN: or

Anand Sahasranaman

Imperial College London - Department of Mathematics ( email )

South Kensington Campus
Imperial College
United Kingdom

Luís M.A. Bettencourt (Contact Author)

University of Chicago

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Santa Fe Institute

1399 Hyde Park Road
Santa Fe, NM 87501
United States

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