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Structural Change in Space: Employment Transition and Urbanization in Developing Countries

March 4, 2019

Washington, DC and Online


  • The distribution of population and economic activity in geographical space is characterized by peaks and valleys, with cities at the peaks and rural areas in the valleys. In a journey from the countryside to urban centers, one witnesses not just increasing population density and wealth but also higher employment in non-agricultural activities. Cities evolve through technological change and associated specialization patterns: from pre-industrial cities (ancient Rome) to agglomeration-based modern cities (San Francisco).

    Where do cities in poorer developing countries fall in the time scale of this evolution, and what drives the emergence and transformation of cities and towns? In this talk, Forhad will discuss recent research on the interactions between spatial and structural transformation. Areas across space are interlinked through transport and migration. Forhad will address multiple aspects of these links, including how a change in transport costs due to infrastructure projects affects spatial specialization, and whether a temporary transport cost shock can leave a relatively permanent footprint on geographical space, resulting in persistent regional inequality. Her research points to a significant gap in the policy dialogue: the problems in a city can’t be solved by focusing on the city alone,  but require a spatial general equilibrium perspective.

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    Forhad Shilpi

    Senior Economist

    Forhad Shilpi is a Senior Economist in the Development Research Group (Energy and Environment). Her current research focuses on the impact of infrastructure on rural-urban transformation, the role of domestic market institutions in the transmission of international price signals, and intergenerational mobility in developing countries. Her research has been published in leading development and economics journals such as Economic Journal, Journal of Development Economics, Journal of Human Resources, Canadian Journal of Economics, and Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics. She holds a Ph.D. degree in economics from Johns Hopkins University.


    Francisco Ferreira

    Acting Director of Research

    Francisco H. G. Ferreira is a Senior Adviser in the World Bank’s Development Research Group, where he oversees the Bank’s research programs on poverty and inequality. He was formerly the Bank’s Chief Economist for the Africa Region, and has also served as Deputy Chief Economist for Latin America and the Caribbean, and as co-Director of the World Development Report 2006, on Equity and Development. Francisco is also a non-resident Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA, Bonn), and has published widely in the fields of poverty and inequality in developing countries.


    Catalina Marulanda

    Practice Manager, Urban Development, South Asia

    Catalina Marulanda is originally from Colombia, but she is currently based in Washington DC where she is the Practice Manager of the Urban Development Unit in the South Asia Region. As such she oversees a portfolio of roughly US$5 billion in lending operations under development and implementation in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and The Maldives. This role involves working with national and local governments on urban development, promoting initiatives that aim at making cities more economically productive, environmentally sound, livable and less vulnerable, particularly for the poor.

  • The Policy Research Talks showcase the latest findings of the research department and their implications for World Bank operations. The monthly event facilitates a dialogue between researchers and operational staff so that we can challenge and contribute to the World Bank's intellectual climate and re-examine conventional wisdom in current development theories and practices. Read More »


  • TIME: 12:30 - 2:00PM ET
  • LOCATION: MC 13-121