The growth of cities in India, 1870-2020

Project Active from to Cities

  • This project addressed three questions:
    • What is the relationship between urbanisation and economic growth in India?
    • Why is India urbanising slowly?
    • Why are some Indian cities growing faster than others?
  • The project assembled and analysed a unique database of urban agglomerations spanning a century, and districts and states across several decades.
  • The study found a robust relationship between economic growth and urbanisation.
  • The pace of urbanisation has been slowed down by high fertility in rural areas and fertility reduction in Indian cities.

City growth in India has varied substantially across time and space. The aim of this project was to understand the determinants of city growth in India in the short-run and over the long period. I used a combination of decennial census data and economic, demographic, social and geographic data obtained from other sources to generate a unique dataset on Indian cities 1872-2011. I then analysed this to build a picture of urbanisation in India.

The study made four made findings, with corresponding policy recommendations. Firstly, it found that growth and urbanisation are tightly linked. Boosting agricultural productivity and rural literacy in the northern hinterlands of India is imperative for faster urbanisation in India by changing the rural-urban fertility divide.

Second, migration to cities for work tends to be male-dominated and circular in nature. Policies should promote more gender-balanced migration streams, for example by creating more women's hostels in cities, to enable more women to access urban labour markets.

Thirdly, smaller towns in India have relatively lower literacy and higher fertility rates. Boosting human capital formation in smaller towns would reduce the internal population growth rates and lead to higher productivity across the urban spectrum.

Fourth, in the next two decades, towns and cities in Northern India will be growing faster than those in South India on account of higher fertility.Public investment in housing and other urban amenities will need to take this into consideration.