I've been rooting around at the US Census Dept's Tigerline Shapefile download area through the web portal here:


And have been pretty successful at getting shapefiles for nearly all census-studied areas such as PUMA's (Public Use Microdata Areas), Counties, Census Block Groups, and so on. I have not however been successful at getting my hands on the MSA files there. There are CBSA files, which are to my knowledge a different, larger area-class of supra-metro regions.

I have access to census data for MSA regions, however, and was wondering where I might be able to get my hands on the MSA shapefile.


There is one other possibility, however. I might be confused about the definitions of MSA's and learn that MSA's and Census "Places", as the regional data type is called at the data access points, are the same. They also have a shapefile set called "Urban areas", which is quite large and therefore I'm guessing fairly granular, so maybe that could be it, I don't know.

I definitely do not want accidentally start making consultancy-level evaluative comments based on inaccurate information due to different areas with some overlap but not 100% identical accidentally being confused for the same area though.

Quick example of that:

Confusing "Greater Greenville" (50 square mile area) in 2010 for the "City of Greenville" (20 square mile area) and saying, given the "growth" from 2000's 20 square mile area population to 2010's 50 square mile area population area and thinking that the city has undergone an high-density urban revolution in just 10 years. "Greenville is blowing up!"

Any change of data-series title scares me a little to a lot so definitely looking for those MSA shapefiles. Fishing for edification on the census data structure though a bit too I guess, sorry mod's you can edit if you want

  • Other people have essentially answered the question. FYI, the "larger area-class of supra-metro regions" are Combined Statistical Areas, or CSAs. Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 20:42
  • I see internal lat/long points for 2000 Census MSA's here.
    – Kotebiya
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 22:08

5 Answers 5


You have been misled, CBSA files are in fact what you are looking for. Check the documentation detailing what each type of shapefile contains.

Want more verification? Here is the description of the GEOID field for the CBSA shapefile: 2010 Census metropolitan statistical area/micropolitan statistical area code found in CBSAFP10. And here is the description for the CBSAFP10 field : 2010 Census metropolitan statistical area/micropolitan statistical area code. You may want to use the NAME10 field to reference each specific MSA.

Here is another tip for you, all of the data released by the Census (as far as I know) comes labeled with a year in which it is measured. If your data is a 5-year average, the most recent year it covers is the shapefile year you should attach it to. If it is one year data, then the shapefile should come from the same year. I am going to assume you want population statistics and that the year of data you have is for 2012 or is for 2008-2012, therefore, I believe you want this.

  • According to wikipedia a "Metropolitan Statistical Area" is a county or group of counties containing a city with a population of 50,000. A micropolitan area is like that, but instead of 50,000 its 10,000. Commented Jun 7, 2014 at 1:28
  • 1
    One caveat to Kotebiya's comment about TIGER vintages: for legislative districts, the TIGER2012 shapefiles represent the geographies before the post-2010 redistricting. Next year's ACS Data is almost here, but 2012 ACS data for sumlevels 500/610/620 should use TIGER2013 vintage shapefiles to get the correct new districts. (see census.gov/acs/www/data_documentation/geography) Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 21:06
  • Do you have documentation for this claim?
    – Kotebiya
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 21:50
  • 1
    Unless you have documentation showing why boulder_ruby should use TIGER2013 vintage shapefiles instead of 2012 shapefiles for 2012 data, I have to disagree with that claim. I'll repeat, if you are using 2008 to 2012 data, use 2012 shapefiles. Here is some documentation showing that this is the case. census.gov/acs/www/Downloads/presentations/ACS_Geography.ppt (slide 26)
    – Kotebiya
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 15:16
  • All I know is that if you are using 2009 census data, you better damn well being using 2009 census block group shapefiles. I don't care about that statefp00 crap, if there are CBG's for 2009, use those. Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 4:46

I concur with Kotebiya. MSAs are identified by a CBSA identifier. Below is the definition from the Tiger line handbook (ftp://ftp2.census.gov/geo/tiger/TIGER2013/2013-FolderNames-Defined.pdf)

CBSA Metropolitan Statistical Area / Micropolitan Statistical Area


Get the CBSA data and filter out all areas with a population of less than 50,000. Actually that's not really correct, its the CITY that has to have a population of at least that number, not the combined counties, I think. So that's a variable. 50,000 people is just a cutoff. You basically have to filter out according to some population number in order to only be working with "real" city. The government's other cutoff is 10,000. To get that group, filter to only get those with populations < 49999.


The Census Bureau publishes shapefiles for aggregate metropolitan areas (based on county boundaries) in a couple of places. Each of these areas has a 5-digit Core Based Statistical Area (CBSA) ID and name, with the ID number ending in a 0.


  • 38300 - Pittsburgh, PA Metro Area
  • 49660 - Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA Metro Area

But for some metropolitan areas, the CBSA's are heavily inclusive of several significant population centers, and while it might be a single integrated metropolitan region, these subareas could qualify as CBSA's on their own, so they're broken out as Metropolitan Divisions or METDIVS.

Metropolitan divisions are smaller groupings of counties or equivalent entities defined within a metropolitan statistical area containing a single core with a population of at least 2.5 million. Not all metropolitan statistical areas with a single core population of this size will contain metropolitan divisions. A metropolitan division consists of one or more main/secondary counties that represent an employment center, plus adjacent counties associated with the main/secondary county or counties through commuting ties. (source)

Importantly, these METDIVs use an ID that's derived from the CBSA ID scheme so they can be comingled with other CSA's.

  • 35620 New York-Newark-Jersey City, N.Y.-N.J.-Pa. Metropolitan Statistical Area
    • 20524 Dutchess County-Putnam County, N.Y. Metropolitan Division
    • 35004 Nassau County-Suffolk County, N.Y. Metropolitan Division
    • 35084 Newark, N.J.-Pa. Metropolitan Division
    • 35614 New York-Jersey City-White Plains, N.Y.-N.J. Metropolitan Division

This data is made available by the Census Bureau as part of their annual TIGER/LINES dataset (FTP Link) with the main Core Statistical Areas in the CBSA directory and the Metropolitan Divisions in the METDIV directory.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers a clean list of the 11 Metropolitan Statistical Areas that are subdivided into METDIVs: https://www.bls.gov/sae/saemd.htm

  • Sorry for adding the final link as a quote; didn't have enough rep but thought it important enough to the answer to leave in. Also, let me know if you want help on joining the shapefiles so they're all in the same layer.
    – riordan
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 20:52

Just to add to this, yes, the ultimate most important number to look for when gauging the market size of a city is the Combined Statistical Area (CSA), not the MSA or the city limits population. Although the Census Bureau does not release estimates for CSAs annually, they do release 1, 3 and 5-year estimates as well as the latest corresponding geospatial boundary data. The latest CSA shapefiles released by the Census Bureau can be found most directly on Data.gov: https://catalog.data.gov/dataset/tiger-line-shapefile-2014-nation-u-s-current-combined-statistical-area-csa-national-shapefile

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