Primate City

Mark Jafferson propounded his concept of primate city in 1939. He observed that a region’s regional development revolves around a large city of the region. All other cities are smaller than the largest city. He names the largest city as primate city.

Characteristics of Primate City

  • Primate city is the largest economically dominant city of a region.
  • There is a stratum of small towns dominated by a large city in the region.
  • It acts as a growth pole from which impulses of innovation emanates to the hinterland and it also attracts the raw materials and labour from its hinterland.
  • The primate city has a lot of externalities which makes it a favorite destination for establishment of new industries.
  • Primate cities have such an over arching influence over the economic development of a nation, so much that they become symbols of national development.
  • In the region with primate city, the ratio of population of three largest cities is 100 : 30 : 20.

Causes of Primacy

  1. Colonial history: The economic development in the former colonial nations tend to lean towards primate cities. It is so because the imperial nations established colonial outposts near the coast. These outposts were used to export the resources and raw materials from the colonial nation to the imperial nation. The imperialists constructed sound transport system around the colonial outposts which enabled exploitation of raw materials of the nation. Such colonial outposts grew to become primate cities.
  2. Export oriented countries: The countries having an export oriented economic development also tend to have large coastal cities. These coastal cities export the goods and services to other countries and these cities become primate cities.
  3. Simple and small economy: A country having a simple and small economy does not have many large cities. The size of economy is so small that most of the secondary and tertiary economic functions can be performed by one single city.
  4. Small areal expense: A country with small area also. As a result, it can not afford many large cities. It is so because the one single city fulfills the urban needs of the whole country. Having many large cities in a small country is also not feasible.
  5. Dual economy: Dual economy means that a large portion of labour force works in labour intensive primary activities and small proportion works in capital intensive secondary and tertiary activities. The capital intensive industry uses the labour and goods from the agriculture sector to support the lifestyle of industrial workers. So, term of trade are in favor of large cities. In this case, large city handles the industrial activities and large number of small towns cater to agriculture activities.

Primate Cities in India

Fig. 1: Primate City Regions
  • Primacy is absent in India at national level but one can observe it at state level.
  • Out of 29 states, 15 States have primate cities.
  • There are many large cities in a single state in north India, so, the primacy does not exist in north India.
  •  The primacy exists in the small  states of north-eastern India where the capital city act as primate city.
  • The primate cities also exist in southern states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kolkata. Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata are their primate cities, respectively. These cities are the former colonial outposts which have become primate cities after independence.
  • In India, primacy exist at regional level, too. For instance, Delhi dominates the north and north-west India. Kolkata dominates the east and north-eastern India. Mumbai dominates the west India. Chennai dominates the south India. The primate city regions are as shown in Fig.1.


From the above discussion, we come to the conclusion that primate city is an abstract idea and explains the dominant role of a large city in social and economic development of a region. The primary pattern of urban growth takes place only in small countries having export based industries or in regions with concentrated resource base. Primacy, at national level, may not exist for large countries.