New Zealand by numbers

24 Jul 2014

A collection of statistical data on population developments in New Zealand.


At the heart of all social, political and economic debates are the people that live in our country. The policies we make are for their benefit, and their needs drive our policy developments. It is thus only fitting to begin our journey into New Zealand’s data with a look at its population.

Demographics, literally the records (Greek: graphikos) of a people (demos), is the systematic way of looking at the people inhabiting a defined area. It is a crucial undertaking in any country but particularly so for countries experiencing changes in the composition of their population.

New Zealand certainly is experiencing population changes on at least three fronts. First, the New Zealand population is growing. This is nothing new because since colonial times, population growth has been positive every year with very few exceptions, particularly at war times. This population growth has been happening because of both positive net inward migration and natural increases. It is fair to say that population growth has been New Zealand’s standard mode.

The second population development worth watching is the changing ethnic composition of New Zealand. From a population that was almost exclusively bicultural with Māori and Pākehā, New Zealand has developed into a more diverse place. Not only have Pākehā changed within themselves to include more non-British European migrants, but in recent decades, the percentage of Asian-descent New Zealanders within the community has also increased. Indeed, many New Zealanders now identify as multi-ethnic.

The third important population development is in the age composition of society. By international, developed world standards New Zealand is still a relatively young nation. But its median age today is higher than at any point in the nation’s history, and we know this process of population ageing will continue. This in itself will have policy implications in a number of areas, not least in public finances, health care and housing.

New Zealand’s population continues to change, but this is nothing new and this chapter shows how.

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