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Metropolitan Statistical Areas

In the 1940's Federal agencies began to develop a single set of geographic guidelines to enhance data production for the largest population centers in the United States. The guidelines and names given to these areas of large population are reviewed between censuses and have been changed when necessary by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The term "metropolitan areas" is used to generally describe an area containing a large population center and adjacent communities that have a high degree of integration with that population center. OMB's metropolitan area standards establish consistent definitions for collecting, tabulating and publishing Federal data for metro areas. The OMB standards are not policy making regulations for public or private sector nonstatistical purposes.

Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), Primary Metropolitan Statistical Areas (PMSAs) and Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Areas (CMSAs) were established as metropolitan area standards during the 1980s and 1990s. While metropolitan area is a general concept in the OMB process, a Metropolitan Statistical Area is a specific area that may be defined using the OMB standards. The following is a general summary of the official standards for MSAs as they apply to North Carolina. The Revised Standards for Defining Metropolitan Areas in the 1990s is available from the U.S. Census Bureau web site. An MSA is a metropolitan area made up of central counties, that include the MSAs central cities, and outlying counties that meet the following requirements:

Population Size Requirements

A city of 50,000 or more population or a U.S. Census Bureau defined urbanized areas of 50,000 or more population and smaller urban clusters of 10,000 to 49,999 population.

Central Cities

City with the largest population in the MSA.

Each additional city with a population of at least 250,000 or with at least 100,000 persons working within its limits.

Each additional city with a population of at least 25,000, and employment/residence ratio of at least .75, and at least 40 percent of its employed residents working in the city.

Central Counties

Those counties that include a central city of the MSA, or at least 50 percent of the population of such a city, provided the city is located in a qualifier area; and those counties in which at least 50 percent of the population lives in the qualifier urbanized area.

Outlying Counties

An outlying county is included in an MSA if it meets any one of the following:

  • At least 50 percent of the employed workers residing in the county commute to the central county/counties, and either the population of the county is at least 25 persons per square mile or at least 10 percent (or at least 5,000) of the population lives in the qualifier urbanized area(s).
  • 40 to 50 percent of the employed workers commute to the central county/counties, and either the population density is at least 35 persons per square mile, or at least 10 percent (or at least 5,000) of the population lives in the qualifier urbanized area(s).
  • 25 to 40 percent of the employed workers commute to the central county/counties and either the population density of the county is at least 50 persons per square mile, or any two of the following conditions exist:
    • Population density is at least 35 persons per square mile,
    • At least 35 percent of the population is urban,
    • At least 10 percent (or at least 5,000) of the population lives in the qualifier urbanized area(s).
  • 15 to 25 percent of the employed workers commute to the central county/counties, the population density of the county is at least 50 persons per square mile, and any two of the following conditions exist:
    • Population density is at least 60 persons per square mile,
    • At least 35 percent of the population is urban,
    • Population growth between the last two decennial censuses is at least 20 percent,
    • At least 10 percent (or at least 5,000) of the population lives in the qualifier urbanized area(s).
  • 15 to 25 percent of the employed workers commute to central county/counties, the population density of the county is less than 50 persons per square mile, and any two of the following conditions exist:
    • At least 35 percent of the population is urban,
    • Population growth between the last two decennial censuses is at least 20 percent,
    • At least 10 percent (or at least 5,000) of the population lives in the qualifier urbanized area(s).
  • At least 2,500 of the population lives in a central city of the MSA located in the qualifier urbanized area(s).

Titles of MSAs

The title of an MSA includes the name of the largest central city, and up to two additional city names as follows:

The name of each additional city with a population of at least 250,000,

The names of additional cities qualified as central cities provided each is at least one-third as large as the largest central city, and

The names of other cities (up to a maximum of two additional names) if the local opinion supports the resulting title.

The Metropolitan Statistical Area standards were revised for use with Census 2000 data. This revision establishes Core Based Statistical Areas. CBSAs may be either Metropolitan Statistical Areas or Micropolitan Statistical Areas. Standards and therefore content of 1990 Census Metropolitan Statistical Areas are not identical to Census 2000 Metropolitan Statistical Area standards.