Graduate Urban Economics

Course Description: (2018 syllabus)

How did China's rapid construction of roads and railroads affect the population distribution: did it increase the concentration in the center of large cities or lead to decentralization? Similarly, when China built the highway system did this help small cities by giving them access to larger markets or instead cause production to move from small cities to larger ones? How does the hukou (户口) system affect productivity: does it help prevent congestion issues in large cities or limit them from reaching their potential? Why does the distribution of city sizes in China differ significantly from the patterns found in Europe and North America?

Each of these questions is the subject of recent papers in urban economics. China is undergoing a period of massive urbanization and is the country with the largest number of cities with a population above 1 million. Therefore there is great interest, both in China and abroad, in better understanding the urban economics of China. In fact, the Journal of Urban Economics had a special issue on "Urbanization in Developing Countries" (March 2017) in which a third of the articles focused specifically on China. In this class we will discuss the classic theories that help us to understand these questions and then examine empirical evidence testing these theories. During the course we will also learn some of the tools used in urban economics, including common identification methods (Bartik shocks, migration instruments, predicted location choice, and other instruments), GIS techniques in R, and an introduction to web-scraping in Python. The objective of the course is to help prepare the student for research in urban economics or related fields, and the course evaluation is based on a student research proposal, handed in at the end of the course.


  • Course is open to Masters and PhD students
  • There are no prerequisites (no required courses before this one), but students who have finished the first year sequence in micro theory and econometrics will find the material easier
  • Grading is based mostly on a final research proposal presented in class, and in written form, as well as short homework assignments (questions on models, referee reports) and in-class presentations (discussion of journal articles and presentation of student's own research)

Links to Lecture Notes and Materials for Past Courses:

  1. Graduate Urban 2018, SUFE Course 213119
  2. Graduate Urban Economics 2017, SUFE Course 213119
  3. Graduate Urban Economics 2016, SUFE Course 213119