Inside Indiana Business

John Besl, Demographer
Indiana Business Research Center
Kelley School of Business, Indiana University


Indianapolis Population Growth Spreads Out

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Statistical Area, as currently defined by the federal government, consists of Marion County and eight surrounding counties in central Indiana.  Collectively, the eight suburban counties are sometimes referred to as the “doughnut” counties.  Over the past 100 years, the nine-county area has not always been known as the Indianapolis MSA, but Marion County has always dominated its neighbors in population size.  Results of Census 2000 show that Marion County still outnumbers the eight doughnut counties, but the balance of population power is turning in favor of the suburbs. 


The chart depicts census population totals of the nine-county MSA from 1900 through 2000.  Population has doubled in each of the past 50-year intervals, from roughly 400,000 in 1900 to 800,000 by 1950, then to 1.6 million in 2000.  The gain of 227,000 persons between 1990 and 2000 is second only to the growth from 1950 to 1960 during the peak of the Baby Boom. 


The chart also gives a graphical representation of urban sprawl in the Indianapolis metropolitan area.  Although there is no widely accepted definition of sprawl, de-concentration of population is a common theme.  The metro area’s past 11 census population counts are broken out into three geographic components: Center Township, the balance of Marion County, and the eight doughnut counties.  It’s especially interesting to note that as recently as 1950, Center Township had more residents than all eight suburban counties combined.  Center Township, however, has lost population in every decade since 1950; by 2000 there were 4.5 suburban residents for every resident of Center Township.  In the latest census count, the township was home to approximately one in 10 metro area residents, down from 1950’s four in 10.