Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)

What Is a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)?

Metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) are delineated by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as having at least one urbanized area with a minimum population of 50,000.

Key Takeaways

  • Metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) are delineated by the U.S. OMB as having at least one urbanized area with a minimum population of 50,000.
  • Metropolitan statistical area (MSA) is the formal definition of a region that consists of a city and surrounding communities that are linked by social and economic factors.
  • Metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) serve to group counties and cities into specific geographic areas for population censuses and compilations of related statistical data.

Understanding Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA)

A metropolitan statistical area (MSA), formerly known as a standard metropolitan statistical area (SMSA), is the formal definition of a region that consists of a city and surrounding communities that are linked by social and economic factors, as established by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Metropolitan statistical areas serve to group counties and cities into specific geographic areas for population censuses and compilations of related statistical data. Modern MSAs are configured to represent contiguous geographic areas with a relatively high density of human population.

Metropolitan statistical areas usually consist of a core city with a large population and its surrounding region, which may include several adjacent counties. The area defined by the MSA is typically marked by significant social and economic interaction. People living in outlying rural areas, for example, may commute considerable distances to work, shop, or attend social activities in the urban center.

As of March 6, 2020 (latest information), per the OMB BULLETIN NO. 20-1, there are 392 regions that meet the requirements to be designated as metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) in the U.S. and Puerto Rico (384 in the United States and eight in Puerto Rico).

In contrast to micropolitan statistical areas, which center on towns and smaller communities with populations between 10,000–50,000, MSAs must include a city with a population of at least 50,000.

Some MSAs, such as Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, contain multiple cities with populations exceeding 50,000. The most populous MSA in the country, New York-Newark-Jersey City, spans portions of three adjacent states, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

MSA Data Uses

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) uses MSA data to analyze labor market conditions within a geographical area. Within a metropolitan statistical area, workers can presumably change jobs without having to move to a new location, creating a relatively stable labor force.

Statistical data about MSAs also helps government officials and businesses review information about per capita income, spending patterns, and unemployment rates. The resulting data can be used to formulate policies designed to stimulate economic growth in the region.

For example, the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta metropolitan statistical area exerts a significant influence on the economic health of the region. It is the most populous area of Georgia. Companies seeking to relocate or establish new companies in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta region can use statistical data about the area to project the viability of their intended business.

Real estate investors also use MSA data to study housing trends and population movement. In addition, applicants for certain social services may need to prove income levels below a fixed percentage of the median gross income in their metropolitan statistical area to qualify for help, including low-income housing and other forms of support.

What Size Is a Metropolitan Statistical Area?

A metropolitan statistical area consists of a location that has at least one urbanized area and a population of at least 50,000 people.

What Is the Difference Between MSA and CSA?

A metropolitan statistical area (MSA) is an area with at least one urbanized area and a population of at least 50,000 people. This includes the core jurisdiction plus adjacent counties that have a high degree of social and economic relations with the core county. A combined statistical area (CSA) is two or more MSAs or micropolitan statistical areas with employment interchange measures of at least 15. "Employment interchange measures" means "the sum of the percentage of workers living in the smaller entity who work in the larger entity and the percentage of employment in the smaller entity that is accounted for by workers who reside in the larger entity."

What Is the Largest Metro Area in the World?

Tokyo is the largest metro area in the world with a total metropolitan population of 36.5 million.

The Bottom Line

A metropolitan statistical area (MSA) is determined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as a location with at least one urbanized area and at least 50,000 people. MSAs are typically cities and their linked surrounding areas. MSAs help to group counties and cities into geographic areas for consensus purposes.

Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Census Bureau. "Metro-Micro About."

  2. Office of Management and Budget. "OMB Bulletin No. 20-01," Page 41.

  3. Census Reporter. "Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX Metro Area."

  4. U.S. Census Bureau. "Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas Totals: 2010-2020." Download "Population Estimates and Estimated Components of Resident Population Change for Metropolitan and Micropolitan Areas."

  5. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Databases, Tables & Calculators by Subject."

  6. Urban Economics. "MSA vs. CSA: What's In a Name?"

  7. World Population Review. "Largest Metro Areas in the World."

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