Statistically Significant

Illustrations by Travis Foster


More restrictions on driving by 15- to 17-year-olds have significantly reduced traffic deaths in that age group, according to a recent study by a Swarthmore College economics professor. Thomas Dee concluded that “graduated driver licensing,” which imposes restrictions on new drivers such as nighttime curfews and a limit on the number of passengers allowed in a car, was largely responsible for a nationwide 5.6 percent drop in the number of fatalities among mid-teens between 1992 and 2002. Almost every state enacted new restrictions on teen driving during that period, and Dee includes Massachusetts (where such rules took effect in 1998) as among those with the toughest rules.

If the current restrictions aren’t enough, the Legislature might want to consider clamping down on teens using cell phones behind the wheel. According to a study from the University of Utah released earlier this year, 18-to-25-year-olds talking on cell phones reacted as slowly to brake lights on a car in front of them as did 65-to-74-year-olds without cell phones. (Don’t worry; researchers used driving simulators, not actual cars.) Cell phones are “instantly aging a large number of drivers,” said UU psychology professor David Strayer, a co-author of the study.


There have been 16 states of emergency declared by Bay State governors over the past 30 years, compared with only five during the previous 30 years. Either we’re getting softer or we’re getting unluckier. Writing in City & Town earlier this year, Peter Judge of the state’s Emergency Management Agency noted that a tornado, two hurricanes, a drought with accompanying forest fires, and a public-transit strike accounted for the handful of declared disasters from 1953 through 1977. But the Blizzard of ’78 began a long string of emergencies (at least as seen from the Corner Office), including the MBTA being placed in receivership in 1979, a natural gas shortage in 1981, a series of floods in 1984, the Malden Mills fire in 1995, and the Worcester warehouse fire in 1999. The last gubernatorial proclamation came after the worst snowstorm of 2004-05—a benchmark that few would want to match this coming winter.


Is gridlock on the Sagamore Bridge a deterrent to crime? The Barnstable-Yarmouth area, connected to the rest of the state by only two roads, has one of the lowest auto theft rates in the US, according to 2004 figures released by the National Insurance Crime Bureau. The nonprofit industry group ranked Cape Cod 307th among 336 metropolitan areas, with 114 vehicle thefts per 100,000 people. Boston was about in the middle, at 141st place (New York City, less easily accessible by its bridges and tunnels, was 191st), and Springfield took top dishonors among Bay State regions, finishing 53rd with a theft rate of 565 per 100,000. Lawrence ranked 183rd, a considerable improvement from 66th just two years before. The highest rate in the nation was in Modesto, Calif., with other Western cities filling out the Top 10.


How can we have a housing shortage when our population is shrinking? Because it’s now the norm to live alone. The Census Bureau announced in August that the most common type of household in 2000 consisted of a single person (26 percent of all households), overtaking the traditional model of a married couple with at least one “natural” child (22 percent). After consolidating some of the 24,722 possible “relationship combinations,” we find that 32 percent of all households have no partners or children of any kind. That is, there may be roommates, but there are no spouses, no unmarried or same-sex partners, and no adopted children or stepchildren. That category is followed by households with a partner and children (31 percent), with a partner but no children (26 percent), and with children but no partner (12 percent.)  

Unfortunately, the data says nothing about whether Americans are happy with their solitude. Maybe single-person households agree with vaudeville-era singer Sophie Tucker, who used to boast: “I’m a one-ticket gal, free as the breeze/ I go where I like, I do as I please/When I lock up my apartment, I’ve got all the keys/I’m living alone and I like it.” But then there’s 1970s pop singer Eric Carmen’s take on the situation: “All by myself/Don’t wanna be/All by myself anymore.”


Local observers were startled to see Cambridge ranked 8th, and Boston a lowly 24th, on a recent study of “America’s Most Liberal Cities”—with Detroit and Gary, Ind., taking the top two slots. But it turns out that the nonpartisan Bay Area Center for Voting Research used nothing more than partisan voting results from the 2004 presidential election in ranking 237 cities with populations of more than 100,000. A more accurate title would have been “America’s Most Democratic Cities,” and the loyalty to that party among African-American voters explains why Baltimore, St. Louis, and Birmingham, Ala. (in a county that voted overwhelmingly against gay marriage last year), finished higher than the Hub in this study.

With less fanfare, the Web site did its own ranking of the most liberal communities in the US last year, and Boston finished on top among large cities, with Cambridge edging out Berkeley, Calif., for second place. The state also took the top four slots among medium-sized cities (Northampton, Somerville, Arlington, and Watertown) and first place among small cities (Provincetown). Our higher showings here are attributable to ePodunk’s consideration of individual contributions to left-leaning political action committees; the number of “gay households,” as deduced from Census figures; and the voting records of US representatives. While the ePodunk study is more nuanced, it can still be criticized for equating gayness with leftyness and for not giving enough weight to taxation and other economic issues.


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According to recently released figures from the Department of Correction, 2,912 inmates were released from state prisons in 1999, and 39 percent of them (or 1,126) were back in prison within three years. The three-year recidivism rate was almost identical for men and women: 848 of 2,171 male inmates and 278 of 741 female inmates. It was also similar among major racial groups (37 percent for whites, 41 percent for African-Americans, and 39 percent for Hispanics), but single people were somewhat more likely to return to prison than married people (41 percent vs. 31 percent). Most released prisoners were between 25 and 40 years old, and the recidivism rate for 25-to-29-year-olds (40 percent) was actually a bit lower than that for 35-to-39-year-olds (43 percent), but the rate drops off significantly for older groups.

Persons convicted of property crimes had the highest recidivism rate (52 percent), while sex offenders had the lowest (28 percent). The rate among released inmates whose last known address was Fall River was 49 percent, the highest of any major city in the Bay State; the lowest rate was in Cambridge (29 percent).