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Metropolitan area (1990-based code)

Codes and Frequencies

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METAREA identifies the metropolitan area in which a household resided, using a 4-digit code scheme based on codes in use for the 1990 census. A metropolitan area, or metro area, is a region consisting of a large urban core together with surrounding communities that have a high degree of economic and social integration with the urban core. Metro areas are defined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which occasionally makes significant changes to its protocols and regularly revises the delineations of metro areas to reflect current population distributions and commuting flows. Metro areas can cross state lines, and they are county-based except in New England. (Prior to the institution of the 2003 OMB protocols, metro areas in New England were based on towns and cities. Now all official metro areas are county-based, but the CPS continues to use special town-based definitions for New England, which the OMB calls New England City and Town Areas, or NECTAs.)

Due to various challenges detailed below, IPUMS CPS discontinued updates to METAREA after December 2022; however, it will continue to be available for 1962-2022 samples. The un-recoded variable METFIPS, which provides the original codes for the respondent's metro area of residence, will continue to be updated going forward. See also (METRO), which identifies whether a household resided in a metro area and specifically whether it resided in a central/principal city of a metro area.

Metro area information was added to the ASEC CPS data by the Census Bureau and not collected from respondents. For 1962-1976, the Census Bureau coded metro area data using simple numbering (e.g., from 1 to 15) in the original ASEC CPS public use files. Beginning with the 1977 survey, the Census Bureau adopted standard FIPS codes for metropolitan areas.

For consistency with the METAREA variable in IPUMS USA, IPUMS CPS originally adopted the same four-digit code system based on metro area definitions used in the 1990 census. Subsequently, IPUMS USA and CPS updated each METAREA variable independently, which resulted in discrepancies between the two. Both attempted to integrate new metro area definitions (which now use 5-digit codes) into the 4-digit METAREA scheme by using the first 3 digits to identify root metro area groupings and using the fourth digit to distinguish altered definitions or subdivisions of the root metro area. E.g., in both IPUMS USA and CPS, code 1920 identifies Dallas-Fort Worth, TX, and code 1921 identifies Fort Worth-Arlington, TX, a subdivision of the larger “root” Dallas-Fort Worth area. But while IPUMS USA never stopped using these two codes, IPUMS CPS began using code 1922 in May 2004 to identify the new combined area of Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX. Similar discrepancies exist for several other areas.

METAREA uses three codes for cases where no metro area can be identified: 9999 (missing data), 9998 (NIU-not in universe, for households not in a metropolitan area), and 9997 (other metropolitan areas, not identified). The 9997 code applies to much of the metropolitan population for years prior to the mid-1980s, when very few metro areas were identified in the CPS data. For later years, the "not identified" code was used when geographic identification would have violated confidentiality requirements.

It is not possible to maintain both consistent and comparable codes for all areas. The extents of metro areas may vary even while their codes remain the same. Some counties may be included in one metro area in one year and in another in a different year. Some metro areas were once independent and later became part of a larger metro area (e.g., Wilmington, DE-NJ-MD, which became part of the Philadelphia metro area). For these cases, it is necessary either to change existing codes to reflect the new hierarchy or maintain old codes with a different hierarchy.

Given these complexities, IPUMS USA discontinued updates to its METAREA variable after 2011, and now provides alternative variables (e.g., MET2013) that each use a single, fixed OMB definition of metro areas. The geographic information in CPS samples does not allow for the construction of this type of "fixed-definition" metro area variable. The METFIPS variable instead identifies metro areas using varying OMB definitions and code systems across time. Fortunately, since the last major revision of OMB protocols in 2003 (adopted in CPS data in May 2004), codes for nearly all metro areas have remained consistent, though the boundaries and exact names of metro areas still occasionally change with subsequent OMB updates.

The Census Bureau warns that, "One set of estimates that can be produced from CPS microdata files should be treated with caution. These are estimates for individual metropolitan areas. Although estimates for the larger areas such as New York, Los Angeles, and so forth, should be fairly accurate and valid for a multitude of uses, estimates for the smaller metropolitan areas (those with populations under 500,000) should be used with caution because of the relatively large sampling variability associated with these estimates.”


The number of metropolitan areas identified in the ASEC CPS increased over time: 15 in 1962-1967; 19 in 1968-1972; 35 in 1973-1976; 44 in 1977-1985; and over 200 beginning in 1986. Metropolitan area is not available in the June, July, and August basic monthly sample data in 1995.

Beginning in May of 2014, the CPS CBSA codes were undergoing a shift from 2004 CBSA codes to 2013 CBSA codes. Some New England City and Town Areas (NECTA) have two codes to represent the same area in the original data. These codes have been integrated so that each NECTA is represented by one code.

IPUMS METAREAs 'Hickory-Morganton, NC' and 'Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir, NC' are labeled as 'Hickory-Morgantown, NC' and 'Hickory-Morgantown-Lenoir, NC' in original data provided by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. IPUMS has adjusted these labels to reflect the generally accepted spelling of Morganton, NC.


  • All households and group quarters.


Years Jan Feb ASEC Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1962 – 1993 - - X - - - - - - - - - -
1994 X X X X X X X X X X X X X
1995 X X X X X X - - - X X X X
1996 – 2022 X X X X X X X X X X X X X


This variable has no flags.