In human geography, a catchment area is the area from which a location, such as a city, service or institution, attracts a population that uses its services and economic opportunities. Catchment areas may be defined based on from where people are naturally drawn to a location (for example, labour catchment area[1]) or as established by governments or organizations for the provision of services.

Governments and community service organizations often define catchment areas for planning purposes and public safety such as ensuring universal access to services like fire departments, police departments, ambulance bases and hospitals. In business, a catchment area is used to describe the influence from which a retail location draws its customers.[2] Airport catchment areas can inform efforts to estimate route profitability.[3]

Types of catchment areas

Catchments can be defined relative to a location and based upon a number of factors, including distance, travel time, geographic boundaries or population within the catchment.

Catchment areas generally fall under two categories, those that occur organically, i.e., "de facto" catchment area, and a place people are naturally drawn to, such as a large shopping centre. Catchment areas in terms of a geographical location is a low lying region in which water from higher areas collect into a single water body. The sources of water collected can vary from rainwater to melted snow. Catchment areas may drain their water into other lower lying basins or into a single place, usually a lake, in the case of a closed catchment. A catchment area in terms of a place people are drawn to could be a city, service or institution.

Catchment area boundaries can be modeled using geographic information systems (GIS).[4] There can be large variability in the services provided within different catchments in the same area depending upon how and when those catchments were established.[5] They are usually contiguous but can overlap when they describe competing services.[6]


Identification of "de facto" catchment areas

GIS technology has allowed for the modeling of catchment areas, and in particular those relating to urban areas. Based on travel time between rural areas and cities of different sizes, the urban–rural catchment areas (URCAs) is a global GIS dataset that allows for comparison across countries, such as the distribution of population along the rural–urban continuum.[7] Functional economic areas (FEAs), also called larger urban zone or functional urban areas, are catchment areas of commuters or commuting zones.[8]

When combined with hospital data, catchment areas can define the epidemiological disease burdens[9] or forecast hospital needs amid a disease outbreak.[10]

Establishment of catchment areas for a specific service

Catchment areas may be established for the provision of services. For example, a school catchment area is the geographic area from which students are eligible to attend a local school. When a facility’s capacity can only service a specific volume, the catchment may be used to limit a population’s ability to access services outside that area.[11] In the case of a school catchment area, children may be unable to enroll in a school outside their catchment to prevent the school's services being exceeded.


See also


  1. ^ "Smaller Labour Catchments across the Western Region". Western Development Commission. 22 May 2019. Archived from the original on 2021-07-16. Retrieved 16 July 2021.
  2. ^ Green, Jack (9 December 2019). "The importance of catchment in retail". Cromwell Property Group. Archived from the original on 2021-07-16. Retrieved July 16, 2021.
  3. ^ "Defining Your Airport's Catchment Area". TRB's COOPERATIVE RESEARCH PROGRAMS. Archived from the original on 2021-07-16. Retrieved July 16, 2021.
  4. ^ McLafferty, Sara L. (2003). "GIS and Health Care". Annual Review of Public Health. 24: 25–42. doi:10.1146/annurev.publhealth.24.012902.141012. PMID 12668754.
  5. ^ Jenkins, C.; Campbell, J. (1996). "Catchment areas in general practice and their relation to size and quality of practice and deprivation: a descriptive study in one London borough". BMJ. 313 (7066): 1189–92. doi:10.1136/bmj.313.7066.1189. PMC 2352502. PMID 8916754.
  6. ^ Schuurman, Nadine; Fiedler, Robert S; Grzybowski, Stefan CW; Grund, Darrin (2006). "Defining rational hospital catchments for non-urban areas based on travel-time". International Journal of Health Geographics. 5: 43. doi:10.1186/1476-072X-5-43. PMC 1617091. PMID 17018146.
  7. ^ Cattaneo, Andrea; Nelson, Andrew; McMenomy, Theresa (2021-01-12). "Global mapping of urban–rural catchment areas reveals unequal access to services". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 118 (2): e2011990118. Bibcode:2021PNAS..11820119C. doi:10.1073/pnas.2011990118. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 7959575. PMID 33431572.
  8. ^ Moreno-Monroy, Ana I.; Schiavina, Marcello; Veneri, Paolo (2020). "Metropolitan areas in the world. Delineation and population trends". Journal of Urban Economics. 125: 103242. doi:10.1016/j.jue.2020.103242.
  9. ^ Alegana, Victor A.; Khazenzi, Cynthia; Akech, Samuel O.; Snow, Robert W. (2020-01-28). "Estimating hospital catchments from in-patient admission records: a spatial statistical approach applied to malaria". Scientific Reports. 10 (1): 1324. Bibcode:2020NatSR..10.1324A. doi:10.1038/s41598-020-58284-0. ISSN 2045-2322. PMC 6987150. PMID 31992809.
  10. ^ Massonnaud, Clément; Roux, Jonathan; Crépey, Pascal (2020-03-20). "COVID-19: Forecasting short term hospital needs in France". medRxiv 10.1101/2020.03.16.20036939v1.
  11. ^ Parsons, Eddie; Chalkley, Brian; Jones, Allan (2000). "School Catchments and Pupil Movements: A case study in parental choice". Educational Studies. 26 (1): 33–48. doi:10.1080/03055690097727. S2CID 144365321.
  12. ^ "Airports: Non-Financial Analysis". Transport Canada.
  13. ^ "Admission: University Admission". Students Nigeria. Archived from the original on 2019-04-20. Retrieved 2014-12-17.
  14. ^ "Primary One Admission for September 2020" (PDF). Education Bureau. August 2019. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 October 2019. Retrieved 7 March 2020.
  15. ^ "Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region. A Profile of Seven Town Labour Catchments" (PDF). WDC Insights. May 2018. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2021-07-19. Retrieved July 20, 2021.