February 21, 2014

Chart of the Week: How metro areas drive the U.S. economy


It probably should come as no surprise that most U.S. economic activity is concentrated in metropolitan areas. What may be surprising, and what the map above shows so clearly, is just how concentrated in a handful of big metros the U.S. economy is.

Reddit user Alexandr Trubetskoy based this map on metro-area GDP estimates by consulting firm IHS Global Insight (in a report prepared for the U.S. Conference of Mayors). Six metro areas — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C., Dallas and Houston — account for almost a quarter of the nation’s $16.8 trillion economy; add in the next 17 highest-ranked metros, and you account for about half of all economic activity.

This is a revision of Trubetskoy’s original map, which showed a rather stark 50-50 GDP split but, he said, had some methodological and mapping issues. But no matter how you slice the data, U.S. metropolitan areas are economic powerhouses. In the report referred to above, IHS noted that the combined GDP of the nation’s 10 largest metros exceeds the combined output of 36 states; the New York metro area alone produced more than all of Spain.

Category: Chart of the Week

Topics: National Economy

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a senior writer at Pew Research Center.


  1. Matthew3 years ago

    Enough said: xkcd.com/1138

  2. Josh Tuttle3 years ago

    Could you provide some information regarding the method behind this map? Thanks!

  3. John Young3 years ago

    If only we could get a breakdown of the population in the metropolitan areas of each quartile. GDP per capita is more telling than just GDP.

  4. Joe L (JoeinIndiana)3 years ago

    How about an overlay of the population with GDP like this businessinsider.com/half-of-the-…

    Would that explain much of where and how the GDP is generated. Occam’s Razor in use.


  5. William Korn3 years ago

    Pardon me for being obvious, but isn’t there a high correlation between your quarters and population? If I’m reading the Census data right, the 6 CMSAs used for the top quarter have a population near one quarter of the U.S. population. That being so, what’s so remarkable about your chart?

  6. Michael Bolden3 years ago

    There seems to be a typo. We have a $16.8 trillion economy, right?

    1. Drew DeSilver3 years ago

      Fixed – thanks for pointing that out, Michael. Map and link have been updated as well.