Largest Metropolitan Areas

The 30 Largest Metropolitan Areas in the United States

Aerial of Manhattan, NYC at sunrise
Howard Kingsnorth / Getty Images

It's not hard to guess what some of the largest cities in the United States are, as they're the longstanding major urban areas of the country, holding on to those top spots decade after decade. In fact, New York City has been the largest U.S. metro since the country's first census in 1790. To have a change in the top three, you have to go back to 1980 to have Los Angeles and Chicago trade places, with Chicago holding the no.

2. Then, you have to take the wayback machine to 1950 to find Los Angeles moving down to no. 4 behind Philadelphia and keep heading in reverse to 1940 to have Detroit upend it and push LA down to no. 5. 

The Census Bureau's Criteria

The U.S. Census Bureau regularly releases population estimates for what are now called consolidated metropolitan statistical areas (CMSAs), metropolitan statistical areas, and primary metropolitan areas. CMSAs are urban areas (such as one or more counties) with a city of more than 50,000 and its surrounding suburbs. The area needs to have a combined population of at least 100,000 (in New England, the total population requirement is 75,000). The suburbs need to be economically and socially integrated with the core city, such as by a high level of residents commuting into the core city, and the area needs to have a specific percentage of the urban population or population density.

The Census Bureau first started using a definition of a metropolitan area for census work in the tabulation of 1910 and used the minimum of 100,000 or more residents, revising it in 1950 down to 50,000 to take into account the growth of suburbs and their integration with the city they surround.

A Bit About the Metros Overall

The 30 largest metropolitan areas in the United States are those urban and suburban areas containing populations more than 2 million.

The top five largest metropolitan areas are still the five largest in population as represented in the 2010 U.S. Census. Without further ado, here's the list, from New York City to Milwaukee; you'll note that many of the largest consolidated metros in New England stretch through multiple states, though several others across the country span borders as well, for example, Kansas City, Kansas stretches over into Missouri. In another example, St. Paul and Minneapolis are both completely in Minnesota, but there are people residing right across the border in Wisconsin who are considered an integrated part of the metropolitan statistical area of Minnesota's Twin Cities.

The data here represents the estimates from July 2016. (See here for a listing of state abbreviations.)

The 30 Biggest U.S. Metros, Largest First

1. New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT-PA 23,689,255
2. Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA18,688,022
3. Chicago-Naperville, IL-IN-WI 9,882,634
4. Washington-Baltimore-Arlington, DC-MD-VA-WV-PA 9,665,892
5. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA 8,751,807
6. Boston-Worcester-Providence, MA-RI-NH-CT 8,176,376
7. Dallas-Fort Worth, TX-OK 7,673,305
8. Philadelphia-Reading-Camden, PA-NJ-DE-MD 7,179,357
9. Houston-The Woodlands, TX 6,972,374
10. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Port St. Lucie, FL 6,723,472
11. Atlanta-Athens-Clarke County-Sandy Springs, GA 6,451,262
12. Detroit-Warren-Ann Arbor, MI 5,318,653
13. Seattle-Tacoma, WA 4,684,516
14. Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI 3,894,820
15. Cleveland-Akron-Canton, OH 3,483,311
16. Denver-Aurora, CO 3,470,235
17. Orlando-Deltona-Daytona Beach, FL 3,202,927
18. Portland-Vancouver-Salem, OR-WA 3,160,488
19. St. Louis-St. Charles-Farmington, MO-IL 2,911,769
20. Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, PA-OH-WV 2,635,228
21. Charlotte-Concord, NC-SC 2,632,249
22. Sacramento-Roseville, CA 2,567,451
23. Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem, UT 2,514,748
24. Kansas City-Overland Park-Kansas City, MO-KS 2,446,396
25. Columbus-Marion-Zanesville, OH 2,443,402
26. Las Vegas-Henderson, NV-AZ 2,404,336
27. Indianapolis-Carmel-Muncie, IN 2,386,199
28. Cincinnati-Wilmington-Maysville, OH-KY-IN 2,224,231
29. Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, NC 2,156,253
30. Milwaukee-Racine-Waukesha, WI 2,043,274


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Rosenberg, Matt. "Largest Metropolitan Areas." ThoughtCo, Feb. 8, 2018, Rosenberg, Matt. (2018, February 8). Largest Metropolitan Areas. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Matt. "Largest Metropolitan Areas." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2018).