An Economic Growth Analysis of Native American Reservations in California

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2019


A history of institutional oppression and genocide has shaped Native American communities across the United States today, reflected in large disparities of socioeconomic outcomes and productivity. Due to a lack of comprehensive data and macroeconomic research, alternative forms of spatial data and theories regarding human settlement develop a lens of understanding of this stagnation.In our efforts to better understand growth on Native American reservations, we utilize nighttime lights data to proxy for economic output in these geographic areas, measuring the settlement characteristics of reservations themselves and against surrounding U.S. regions. Through a series of log-log regressions that focus on Zipf’s scaling law and settlement scaling theory, we measure population and production variables to compare Native and non-Native populations in California. We find that both groups demonstrate key estimates of 1 for their production regressions. When measured with radiance, there is greater variation, but generally positive trends of growth continue, indicating the relationship with population and production variables. With these findings, we conclude our test of this methodology and theory to confirm that societies scale up in productivity with population and other economic growth variables. There are clear indicators of how growth has stagnated on Native American reservations, despite proximity to higher-growth regions, which calls for greater emphasis on improving economic and development outcomes for these communities.

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