Some of the most populous cities in the United States have held on to those top spots decade after decade. In fact, New York City has been the largest U.S. metropolitan area since the country's first census in 1790. The other long-time holders of top-three titles are Los Angeles and Chicago.
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 number two spot. Then, you have to look back to 1950 to find Los Angeles moving down to number 4 behind Philadelphia and keep heading back to 1940 to have Detroit push Los Angeles down to number five.
The Census Bureau's Criteria
The U.S. Census Bureau conducts official census counts every ten years, and regularly releases population estimates for 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, in most cases 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.
About Metropolitan Areas
The 30 largest metropolitan areas in the United States are those urban and suburban areas containing populations of 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. This list of the top 30 metropolitan areas spans from New York City to Milwaukee; you'll note that many of the largest consolidated metros in New England stretch through multiple states. 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; a new census will take place in 2020.
The 30 Biggest U.S. Metropolitan Areas from Largest to Smallest
|1.||New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT-PA||23,689,255|
|2.||Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA||18,688,022|
|5.||San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA||8,751,807|
|7.||Dallas-Fort Worth, TX-OK||7,673,305|
|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|
|14.||Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI||3,894,820|
|17.||Orlando-Deltona-Daytona Beach, FL||3,202,927|
|19.||St. Louis-St. Charles-Farmington, MO-IL||2,911,769|
|20.||Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, PA-OH-WV||2,635,228|
|23.||Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem, UT||2,514,748|
|24.||Kansas City-Overland Park-Kansas City, MO-KS||2,446,396|
|26.||Las Vegas-Henderson, NV-AZ||2,404,336|
|29.||Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, NC||2,156,253|