What is economic geography? Definition and meaning

Economic geography, which is a sub-field of Geography, is the study of the location, distribution and spatial organization of economic activities across the globe.

Over the past few decades, economist have approached subject in ways more typical of a sub-discipline of economics. Economic geography today looks at how such forces as migration, trade costs, and the location of firms and sectors interact.

Today there are several different working definitions of economic geography, because every economic geographer looks at his or her discipline in a subjective, personal and slightly diverging way.

Economic GeographyWithin the sub-discipline of economic geography is the study of wealth distribution globally.

Economic geography is interdisciplinary – it involves explicitly economics, business and geography, and implicitly other natural and social sciences.

The University of Washington’s Department of Geography says the following about economic geography:

“In Economic Geography, we study the (locational, organizational and behavioral) principles and processes associated with the spatial allocation of scarce (human, man-made and natural) resources (which are also distributed spatially) and the spatial patterns and (direct and indirect, social, environmental and economic) consequences resulting from such allocations.”



Economic geography covers a vast area

Economic geographers investigate and try to explain the major factors that have driven China’s spectacular GDP growth over the past two decades, and the European Union’s relative decline.

They look at why there is persistent poverty in pockets of global cities such as New York, Tokyo and London, and what triggered the emergence of massive urban slum areas in Calcutta.

Richard HartshorneRichard Hartshorne (1899-1992), a prominent American geographer who specialized in economic and political geography, once said: “The border position of geography between the natural and the social sciences is fairly generally recognized. Concerned primarily with differences in the different areas of the world, geography studies both natural and cultural features. In some universities, it is included among the natural sciences, in other among the social scientists. In England and America, geographers have particularly cultivated that portion of their field which leads naturally into economics, i.e. economic geography.” (Image: alchetron.com)

Economic geography examines the impacts of globalization on people’s livelihoods and jobs across the globe, and tries to explain the causes and consequences of uneven development between and within different regions.

Professor Yoko Aoyama, who works at the Graduate School of Geography at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, wrote the following about economic geography:

“Contemporary economic geographers study geographically specific factors that shape economic processes and identify key agents (such as firms, labor and the state) and drivers (such as innovation, institutions, entrepreneurship and accessibility) that prompt uneven territorial development and change (such as industrial clusters, regional disparities and core – periphery).”



What drives territorial development?

Since the birth of economic geography as a sub-discipline, researchers have looked at several different geographical factors that drive territorial development.

Initially, all economies across the world were dominated by agriculture and fishing. This meant that the focus was on climate and natural-resource endowments, as well as the supply of labor.

By the 20th century, after the industrial revolution, economic geographers’ focus shifted to the geography of companies and industries, production processes, technology and innovation, factory wages, workers’ skills, and the state’s role in encouraging industrialization.

Since the turn of the century, economic geographers have added social endowments to their list of interests, including institutions, networks, knowledge and culture.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, economic geography is:

“A branch of geography that deals with the relations of physical and economic conditions to the production and distribution of commodities.”

Video – Economic Geography

In this video, the speaker talks about four of the components of the spatial economy – Primary, Secondary, Tertiary and Quarternary.