Entrances and exits

Each year, the state’s Department of Public Health releases two thick reports on vital statistics: Massachusetts Births and Massachusetts Deaths. To mark the new year, we’ve culled some of the major data points from the reports for 2007 (reports for 2008 will come out later this spring) and noted comparisons with the latest available data at the national level.

Birth trends

The birth rate in Massachusetts in 2007 was 12.1 per 1,000 people, which placed us 45th in the nation (with all five of the other New England states below us). Within the Bay State, the North Shore cities of Lawrence, Chelsea, and Lynn had the highest birth rates in 2007. (See table at right.) Among places with more than 10,000 people, the lowest birth rates were in Amherst, Concord, and Lexington.

In 2006, the last year for which complete data are available, the average age of a mother at first birth was 27.7 years in Massachusetts — which made us the highest in the nation and also the state with the biggest increase since 1970 (when the Bay State average was 22.5 years). But we may have reached a plateau, as the average age dropped slightly to 27.6 years in 2007.

Meanwhile, the percentage of mothers who were not married at the time of delivery continued to rise, going up another 1.2 points from 2006 to 2007 and passing the one-third mark. (See figures at right.) Still, we were well below the national average of 39.7 percent on that score; instead, we were comparable to other well-educated states, such as Minnesota and New Hampshire. The CDC reports that a majority of all births in Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Mexico were to unmarried mothers.

Finally, cesarean deliveries have become much more common in Massachusetts since the beginning of the century and now account for more than one-third of all births, slightly more than the national average. (See figures at right.) But use of the procedure varies widely from hospital to hospital — from a low of 17 percent at Tobey Hospital in Wareham to 44 percent at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth — and is generally more common in metro Boston than in western Massachusetts.

Death data

For only the second time in history, cancer was the leading cause of death in Massachusetts during 2007. Heart disease was the biggest killer in the Bay State for most of the 20th century (taking over from infectious diseases in the 1920s), but quicker advances in treating heart problems meant that cancer moved to the top spot in 2006. (See chart below.) In the US as a whole — and in most Bay State cities outside of Route 128 — heart disease remains the leading cause of death. But rates have been dropping locally and nationally not only for cancer and heart disease, but also strokes and respiratory diseases. In contrast, rates have been rising for fatal injuries (in large part because of a sharp increase in falls among people over 65) and deaths attributable to Alzheimer’s disease.

The leading cause of “unnatural” deaths in the Bay State during 2007 was narcotics, which claimed 546 people, followed by suicide (504), motor-vehicle accidents (437), and homicide (183). Adjusted for population, Massachusetts ranks last in the incidence of fatalities from car accidents and is well below the national average in suicides and homicides — but is somewhat above the norm in drug-related deaths.

The table at right lists “premature death rates” — that is, deaths per 100,000 people under the age of 75 — for 2007. Cambridge is the only one of the state’s 10 largest cities with a premature death rate lower than the state as a whole. One reason: There were only five deaths in Cambridge attributed to drugs in 2007, compared with 12 in almost identically sized Lowell and 18 in the much smaller city of Lynn.

Meet the Author

All data are from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the National Center for Health Statistics (part of the Centers for Disease Control), with population data from the US Census Bureau.