Salisbury is a popular seaside town known for sandy beaches and panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean that draw tourists from far and wide.

It was also the sixth-fastest growing community in Massachusetts from 2010 to 2018, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Salisbury’s population has risen to 9,489 over the past nine years — a 14.5% increase, the newly released data show.

“Salisbury has become a very attractive place for empty-nesters and young professionals, so we’ve seen a lot of growth,” said Town Manager Neil Harrington. “The beach is a huge factor, but we also have great highway access, the tax rate is lower here than in the surrounding communities, and we like to think we provide a decent level of services.”

More than 82% of Massachusetts’ 351 cities and towns have increased in population since the last decennial census. Locally, Lawrence, Andover and Haverhill had the largest population gains in raw numbers from 2010 to 2018, according to the estimates, while Salisbury, Middleton and North Andover had the largest increases by percentage.

Since the last census, the state’s population has increased an estimated 5.4%, reaching almost 7 million residents.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth in the cities and certainly the eastern part of the state,” said Susan Strate, senior manager of the population estimates program at the Donahue Institute of the University of Massachusetts. “But it’s the small- to mid-sized communities in Middlesex, Essex and to some extent Worcester counties that have been growing most rapidly, as percent of the population.”

Essex County was the third-fastest growing county following the 2010 Census, adding 47,557 new residents, or 6.4% population growth.

Suffolk County grew by 11.8% or 85,062 new residents while Nantucket grew by 11.4% or 1,115 residents.

While population growth has been strong, particularly in communities closer to Boston, some communities in the Berkshires and on Cape Cod are showing decline, Strate said.

Reasons for pockets of declining populations vary, she said, but in most cases it’s driven by an aging population and a lack of economic opportunities.

“It’s a higher median age in many those communities, and most of the population is either beyond their child-bearing age or retired,” Strate said. “Some communities are declining simply because of economic reasons, like in the Berkshires, where there aren’t as many job opportunities as in the eastern part of the state.”

Massachusetts is growing faster than New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and other states in the Northeast, she added, and international immigration fuels much of the growth.

“That continues to be one of the big population drivers in Massachusetts,” Strate said. “The number of internationals moving in are more than twice that of the domestics moving out.”

Secretary of State William Galvin said the fact most communities have seen population increases is important as the state prepares for the 2020 Census.

Galvin and other state leaders are concerned about the Justice Department’s decision to add a question to the 2020 Census asking if someone is a citizen. They say the extra question could lead some immigrants and their families — even those living in the U.S. legally — to avoid the count. A legal challenge concerning the question is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Census data are used to set congressional districts, and the number of House seats also plays a part in determining the number of electoral votes each state receives. The data also affects how much money the state gets for highways, health care, public transportation, education and other programs.

Massachusetts has nine representatives in Congress, which could increase or decrease depending on the 2020 count. The state lost one congressional seat after the 2010 Census because the population didn’t grow as fast as the national average.

“We will need to make sure that every person is counted in the 2020 Census so that we are not shortchanged in federal resources or congressional representation,” Galvin said.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.


Newly released U.S. Census data shows cities and towns north of Boston have increased in population since the 2010 count.

Community Population 2018 Population 2010 Percent/number change *

Salisbury 9,489 8,283 +14.5% (1,199)

West Newbury 4,691 4,235 +10.8% (457)

North Andover 28,352 31,296 +10.4% (2,938)

Andover 33,201 36,403 +10.1% (3,332)

Merrimac 6,975 6,338 +10.1% (637)

Amesbury 17,569 16,283 +7.9 % (1,283)

Methuen 50,698 47,255 +7.1% (3,378)

Georgetown 8,773 8,183 +7.1 % (580)

Groveland 6,850 6,549 +6.2% (397)

North Reading 15,710 14,892 + 5.5% (821)

Lawrence 80,376 76,377 +5.3% (4,028)

Haverhill 64,041 60,879 +5.2% (3,163)

Boxford 8,367 7,965 +5.1% (403)

Newburyport 18,202 17,416 +4.5 % (790)

Source: U.S. Census July 1, 2018 population estimates; University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute

* Communities listed in order of percent of population growth.

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