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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.

Users should be extremely cautious in making estimates for specific metropolitan areas because of the small sample sizes available.

See also METRO, which specifies whether a housing unit was inside or outside the central city of a metropolitan area.

METAREA was added to the data by the Census Bureau, not collected from respondents.

Due to various challenges detailed below, IPUMS ATUS discontinued updates to METAREA after December 2022; however, it will continue to be available for 2003-2022 samples. 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.

METAREA uses two codes for cases where no metro area can be identified: 9999 (missing data) and 9998 (NIU-not in universe, for households not in a metropolitan area. 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.

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."


Beginning in May of 2014, the 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.


  • CPS households.


  • 2003-2022


This variable has no flags.