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Metropolitan and central/principal city status

Codes and Frequencies

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METRO indicates whether a household resided in a metropolitan area. For households within metropolitan areas, METRO also indicates whether the housing unit was inside or outside of a central/principal city. The Census Bureau adds this information itself and does not collect it directly from respondents.


Definitions of metropolitan areas and central/principal cities have changed from census to census. The term "central city" was retired by the OMB in 2003 and replaced with the term "principal city." The term was changed to alleviate confusion as "central city" can connote "inner city", but the OMB definitions do not capture that concept. The definition of "principal city" was also broadened to include census designated places as well as incorporated places.

For 1962 to 1976, households in metropolitan areas were classified dichotomously as "in the central city" and "not in the central city." For 1977 onward, IPUMS-CPS added an additional code, "in metropolitan area, central city status unknown." In addition, confidentiality requirements led to some households being classified as "not identifiable" in the METRO variable.

METRO is unavailable in the June, July, and August 1995 basic monthly sample data. In earlier basic monthly samples, METRO is unavailable in January, April, May, June, October, and November 1976 data, as well as July, August, and September 1985 samples.

In January 2023, the Census Bureau made a significant change to the way confidentiality is protected for individuals in small geographic areas. Geography is now partially synthesized for areas with a population below the threshold of 100,000. This change will be phased in as new respondents enter the CPS, beginning with month-in-sample 1 in January 2023. These changes affect the following geographic variables: METFIPS, COUNTY, METRO, INDIVIDCC, and CBSASZ. For more information, see the Census Bureau's 2023 Current Population Survey User Note.

Comparability with IPUMS-USA

The METRO variable is largely comparable between IPUMS USA and IPUMS CPS. The codes correspond directly, but the precision may differ substantially (e.g., IPUMS USA may have larger shares of population with unidentified metro status) due to differences in geographic information available in the source microdata. There are also discrepancies in the timing of adoption of new metropolitan area definitions For example, IPUMS USA began using 2013 OMB metro area definitions with the 2012 ACS samples while the CPS began using the 2013 metro definitions in 2014.


  • All households and group quarters.


Years Jan Feb ASEC Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1962 – 1975 - - X - - - - - - - - - -
1976 - X X X - - - X X X - - X
1977 – 1984 X X X X X X X X X X X X X
1985 X X X X X X X - - - X X X
1986 – 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 – 2023 X X X X X X X X X X X X X
2024 X X - X X - - - - - - - -


This variable has no flags.