The highest birth rate in the nation is in the Provo-Orem area of Utah, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report. The highest death rate is around Bradenton, Florida.

The Reno, Nev., area has the highest divorce rate, the census says.

Reno also has the nation's highest rate for marriage and the nation's lowest proportion of welfare recipients.

The highest welfare rate, the report says, is in the Visalia-Tulare-Porterville area in California's San Joaquin Valley.

All these comparisons and about 2,000 more are part of a massive data book on the 50 states and the nation's 305 metropolitan areas issued today by the Census Bureau.

"It shows you where a lot of places rank on a lot of characteristics," said Glenn W. King, the statistician in charge of compiling the report, which uses new data from the 1980 census as well as other statistics gathered by more than 40 federal and private agencies.

"But you have to look behind some of the statistics," King warned, "to understand what is happening."

For example, the high birth rate around Provo -- 37 per 1,000 and rising over the past 20 years -- reflects the area's high proportion of Mormons, King said, who believe in having large families.

The high death rate around Bradenton reflects its high proportion of persons over age 65, many of whom have come to Florida to retire.

Reno's high divorce and marriage rates probably result from Nevada laws, King said, which make both of them easy to come by. Its very low proportion of welfare recipients, he said, probably also reflects its laws as well as the ready availability of service jobs, at least in 1980 when most of the figures were compiled.

By contrast, the very high welfare rate in Vasalia-Tulare, as well as several other parts of California's lush agricultural valleys, probably reflects the relative ease of welfare requirements as well as the poverty of farm workers.

The Washington area ranks 140th in its welfare rate out of the 305 metropolitan areas compared.

On other major socio-economic indicators the Washington area ranks:

* Third in money income per capita in 1979, after Anchorage, where prices are high amid an oil boom, and the Bridgeport-Stamford (Fairfield County) area of Connecticut, a generally well-to-do suburb of New York. The census reported last spring that Washington is the wealthiest of the nation's 38 large metropolitan areas with population over 1 million.

* Eighth in local spending per capita for 1977, a category in which New York City and its suburbs were first.

* 12th in local government employment per 100,000 population

20th in physicians per 100,000 residents

* 22nd in its percentage of blacks -- 27.9 percent for the whole metropolitan area.

* Eighth among metropolitan areas in total population (3.1 million), but 219th in its rate of population growth during the 1970s. The decade's fastest growth, the census said, was in the Fort Myers and Ocala areas of Florida. The sharpest decline was in the New York metropolitan area, which still was the nation's largest with 9.1 million people in 1980 -- though this was down from almost 10 million in 1970.

The Washington area's unemployment rate was among the lowest in 1980 -- 4.3 percent or 287th among the metropolitan areas. It was also relatively low in its rates for births (230th), deaths (256th), marriage (211th), and divorce (207th).

The new report does not contain rankings for the data on singles, working women, and declining fertility used last month by the Greater Washington Research Center, which reported that the Washington area was leading a national change in family structures and lifestyles.

According to the new census report, despite gains made by the Sunbelt during the 1970s, the nation's four poorest metropolitan areas, as measured by per capita income, are all in the South -- Laredo, McAllen-Pharr, and Brownsville, Texas, and Jacksonville, N.C. The lowest-spending local governments are also in the South -- Anderson, S.C., Killeen-Temple, Tex., and Fort Smith, Ark.,and adjoining parts of Oklahoma.

The greatest manufacturing centers remain in the largest metropolitan areas. The Chicago area is first in the value added by manufacture, followed by Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Boston.

The Rochester, Minn., area, site of the Mayo Clinic, has the highest ratio of physicians to population. It is followed by Iowa City, Charlottesville, Va., and Columbia, Mo., all areas with major university medical centers, King noted, The fewest physicians per capita are in poor areas of the South -- Jacksonville, N.C., Laredo, and McAllen-Pharr, Texas.