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Population Growth in Relation to the State's Metropolitan Areas

Urban vs Rural Communities


Since the development of industrial centers near the turn of the last century (1880’s to early 1900’s) population has become concentrated and distributed into “urban” and “rural” areas.  The graph below displays the divergent trends in urban and rural population since 1900.


line graph showing population change in urban and rural areas since 1900


Source:  US Census Bureau 1990 and 2000
Source Data: Urban/Rural Census Data 1900 to 2000


The history of Washington State’s population distribution is fairly straightforward.  In the late 1800’s to very early 1900’s more people lived in rural areas rather than urban centers in Washington State.  Most people worked on farms or made a living from the natural resources of Washington State.  This trend reversed by 1910 and the difference in population concentration has continued to widen since.  In 1910, the population was divided into 53% urban and 47% rural.  By 2000, the population division was 82% urban and 18% rural. 



Metropolitian Areas


Metropolitan Statistical Areas* (MSAs) are generally “urbanized*” areas that consist of a core area containing a large population nucleus, together with adjacent rural communities that have a high degree of economic and social integration with that core.  In 2000, 84% of the state’s population was concentrated within one of the six designated MSAs.  By 2030, 88% of the state's population is expected to live within one of the eight designated MSAs (with 2 new MSAs forming between 2000 and 2030). 



Washington's population by metropolitan statistical area


Washington's consolidated metropolitan statistical area and MSA populations: actual in 2000 and projected 2030

Census 2000,
Washington State Historical = Washington State Office of Financial Management (OFM), published November 2003


Population Density in Washington State

The maps below show the density throughout Washington State is not evenly distributed.  In fact, most of the state has a low density with very specific areas having concentrations of people.  The average US density in 2000 is 79.6 people per square mile.  There is no current projection for 2030 at the census tract level, thus only 1990 and 2000 maps are below.

Population Density in Washington State 1990
Including MSA and Urbanized Areas outside of MSA Boundaries

population per square mile by census tract

map of population density by census tract: 1990

Source Web site:


Population Density in Washington State 2000
Including MSA and Urbanized Areas outside of MSA Boundaries

Population per square mile by census tract

map of population density by census tract: 2000

Source Web site:
*The general concept of a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is a U.S. Census Bureau-defined urbanized area of at least 50,000 inhabitants with a total metropolitan population of at least 100,000.  Additional contiguous counties are included in the MSA if they meet certain requirements of commuting to the central counties and other selected requirements of metropolitan character (such as population density and percent urban).
A metropolitan statistical area identified as a Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area (CMSA) has a population of one million or more and also has separate component areas (PMSAs - primary metropolitan statistical areas) meeting statistical criteria and supported by local opinion.
An Urbanized Area (UA)  is a U.S. Census Bureau-defined geography which is defined as a continuously built-up area with a population of 50,000 or more that consists of a central place and a density settled urban fringe.