Exploiting the hierarchical structure of cities and based on a dataset for U.S. cities between 1840 and 2016, the aim of this paper is to analyze the evolution of the U.S. city size distribution. For that purpose we estimate a general three‐parameter Zipf model, which can be traced back to Mandelbrot (1982), and validate our results by means of the hierarchical scaling law. Especially in the second half of the twentieth century, we find a pronounced departure from the exact Zipf's law. The city size distribution has become more equally distributed over time. Besides, the applied estimation method reveals evidence for leading cities dominating the remaining largest cities. Thus, the growing equality of the city sizes can be explained rather by growing smaller cities than by a loss of importance of the largest ones.
city size distributions Zipf's law hierachical scaling law urban systems