In the United States, a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) is a geographical region with a relatively high population density at its core and close economic ties throughout the area. Such regions are neither legally incorporated as a city or town would be, nor are they legal administrative divisions like counties or separate entities such as states. As such, the precise definition of any given metropolitan area can vary with the source. A typical metropolitan area is centered on a single large city that wields substantial influence over the region (e.g., Chicago or Atlanta). However, some metropolitan areas contain more than one large city with no single municipality holding a substantially dominant position (e.g., Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex, Norfolk-Virginia Beach (Hampton Roads), Riverside–San Bernardino (Inland Empire) or Minneapolis–Saint Paul).
MSAs are defined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and used by the Census Bureau and other federal government agencies for statistical purposes.
U.S. Census statistics for metropolitan areas are reported according to the following definitions.
The U.S. Office of Management and Budget defines a set of core based statistical areas (CBSAs) throughout the country. CBSAs are delineated on the basis of a central urban area or urban cluster – in other words: a contiguous area of relatively high population density. CBSAs are composed of counties and county equivalents. The counties containing the core urban area are known as the central counties of the CBSA. Additional surrounding counties, known as outlying counties, can be included in the CBSA if these counties have strong social and economic ties to the central counties as measured by commuting and employment. Outlying counties are included in the CBSA if the employment interchange measure (total of in- and out-commuting) is 25% or more, although these numbers are estimates and exceptions are made. Some areas within these outlying counties may be rural in nature. As well as MSAs, CBSAs are subdivided into micropolitan statistical areas (μSAs) based on the population of the core urban area. Under certain conditions, one or more CBSAs may be grouped together to form a larger statistical entity known as a combined statistical area (CSA). Previous terms that are no longer used include standard metropolitan statistical area (SMSA) and primary metropolitan statistical area (PMSA). In New England, towns have precedence over counties, so statistically similar areas are defined in terms of town-based units known as New England city and town areas (NECTAs).