Demographic Trends: 2011

National demographic projections

The projections give an indication of future changes in New Zealand's population, broad ethnic populations, families and households, and labour force.

The following highlights are based on the respective mid-range projection series, one of many series produced:

  • New Zealand’s population is projected to reach 5 million in the mid-2020s, according to the mid-range scenario (series 5) of the 2009-base projections.
  • The population growth rate will slow steadily, because of the narrowing gap between births and deaths. By 2061, natural increase (births minus deaths) is projected to be 5,000, down from over 30,000 in 2009.
  • The age structure of the population will continue to undergo gradual but significant changes, resulting in more older people and further ageing of the population.
  • Half of New Zealand’s population will be aged 43 years and older by 2061, compared with a median age of 37 years in 2009.
  • The population aged 65 years and over will surpass 1 million by the late 2020s, compared with 550,000 in 2009.
  • Between 2006 and 2026, the broad Asian, Pacific, and Māori ethnic populations are all projected to grow faster than the New Zealand population overall.
  • The numbers of families and households will grow faster than the population between 2006 and 2031, reflecting the trend towards smaller average household size.
  • The average size of households will decrease from 2.6 people in 2006 to 2.4 people in 2031.
  • One-person households are projected to increase by an average of 2.0 percent a year, from 363,000 in 2006 to 602,000 in 2031.
  • Most of the growth in families will be in couple-without-children families as the large number of people born during the 1950s to early 1970s reach the older ages.
  • New Zealand's labour force is projected to keep increasing from an estimated 2.24 million in 2006 to 2.75 million in 2031 and 3.00 million in 2061.
  • Half the New Zealand labour force will be older than 42 years in 2011, compared with a median age of 40 years in 2006 and 36 years in 1991.

Figure 7

Graph, Population by broad age group 1951–2061, series 5.

Introduction

This chapter presents the latest national demographic projections for New Zealand. It includes projections of total population, population by age, ethnic populations, the number of households and families, and the labour force. These projections are not predictions or forecasts, but are an indication of future demographic change using assumptions about future patterns in fertility (births), mortality (deaths), migration, inter-ethnic mobility, living arrangement types, and labour force participation. Multiple series are produced to demonstrate the impact of different assumptions and because of uncertainty in future trends. However, because of space restrictions, only the respective mid-range projection series is discussed in this commentary. In general, the chosen series conveys the broad features of likely future dynamics and patterns.

National population projections 2009 (base)–2061 based on the estimated resident population (provisional) of New Zealand at 30 June 2009 were released on 27 October 2009. These projections will be updated and released in 2012.

Updated 2006-base national ethnic population projections, labour force projections, and family and household projections were released in 2010. These projections will be updated and released in 2015–16 following the availability of 2013 Census results.

New Zealand’s population

The projected shape of New Zealand’s future population will be noticeably different from what it is today. Population growth will slow between 2009 and 2061. The national population is expected to reach 5 million in the June 2027 year, 5.40 million in 2041 and 5.75 million in 2061 (series 5).

The slowing of the population growth during the projection period is driven by the narrowing gap between births and deaths. Annual births are expected to decrease from 63,000 in 2010 to an average of 62,000 in 2012–16, and 61,000 in 2017–26. Subsequently, births are projected to increase to an annual average of 63,000 by 2061. These trends reflect the assumed decrease in total fertility rates and fluctuations in the number of women in the childbearing ages.

In contrast, deaths are expected to increase steadily from 30,000 in 2010 to 42,000 in 2031, and to 58,000 in 2061, despite assumed lower death rates and increased life expectancy. This is because of the large number of people born during the 1950s to early 1970s reaching the older ages.

Population by age

All projection series indicate more older people and further ageing of the population. The median age (half the population is older, and half younger, than this age) of New Zealand’s population increased from 26 years in 1971 to 37 years in 2009. According to projection series 5, half of the population will be aged 40 years and older by 2031, and by 2061 half the population will be aged 43 years and older.

The number of children aged 0–14 years peaked at 940,000 in 1974, then decreased steadily to 770,000 in 1989, before generally increasing to 890,000 in 2009. Under projection series 5, the number of children is expected to increase slightly to 940,000 in 2021 before easing to about 930,000 in 2023–43. In the long term, the number of children increases to 950,000 in 2051 and 960,000 in 2061. The projected fluctuations reflect birth numbers in preceding years. By 2061, children will account for only 17 percent of the population compared with 21 percent in 2009 and about 33 percent in the early 1960s.

The working-age population (those aged 15–64) more than doubled from 1.20 million in 1951 to 2.87 million in 2009. It is projected to grow gradually to 3.15 million in 2031 and 3.36 million in 2061. The working-age population will then make up 58 percent of the total population, compared with 67 percent in 2009.

The number of people aged 65 years and over has doubled since 1976, to 550,000 in 2009. Projection series 5 indicates that there will be 1.44 million people aged 65+ in 2061, 2.6 times the 2009 total. The largest growth will occur between 2011 and 2037 as the baby boomers move into this age group. From the late 2020s, the 65+ age group will make up over 20 percent of all New Zealanders, compared with 13 percent in 2009. From the late 2050s, this age group will comprise 25 percent of the population.

Population by ethnicity

Ethnic diversity is set to increase in New Zealand in the future. All ethnic populations will increase numerically, but their relative percentages of the New Zealand population are projected to change considerably. Māori will comprise 16 percent of the population in 2026, up from 15 percent in 2006 (series 6). In a similar trend, Pacific peoples will comprise 10 percent of the population in 2026, up from 7 percent in 2006.

The most significant change will be to the broad Asian ethnic group, comprising 16 percent of the total population by 2026, up from 10 percent in 2006. ‘European or Other (including New Zealander)’ will still be the largest ethnic group, making up 70 percent of the total population in 2026, although this is a drop from 77 percent in 2006.

In the case of the Asian population the growth is mainly driven by net migration gains. In the case of the Māori and Pacific populations, the growth is mainly driven by higher fertility rates combined with a youthful age structure.

Each ethnic population consists of all people who identify with that ethnicity. It is important to note that these populations are not mutually exclusive because people can and do identify with more than one ethnicity, and can therefore be counted in more than one ethnic population.

Families

The number of families is projected to reach 1.46 million by 2031 (series 5B), an increase of 288,000 (an average annual increase of 0.9 percent a year) from an estimated 1.17 million families at 30 June 2006.

‘Couple without children’ families will grow from 40 percent of all families in 2006 to 50 percent in 2031, surpassing two-parent families, which will decrease from 41 percent of all families in 2006 to 32 percent in 2031. These changes are largely the result of changes in the age structure of the population, and partly because of continuing trends towards single parenting and fewer couples having children. The share of one-parent families will stay relatively static, decreasing from 19 percent to 18 percent of all families between 2006 and 2031.

Households

The number of households is projected to reach 2.09 million by 2031 (series 5B), an increase of 536,000 (an average annual increase of 1.2 percent a year) from an estimated 1.55 million households at 30 June 2006.

There will also be a shift in household types. One-person households are projected to be the fastest-growing household type, increasing by 240,000 (an average of 2.0 percent a year) from 363,000 in 2006 to 602,000 in 2031. One-person households will account for 29 percent of all households in 2031, up from 23 percent in 2006. On the other hand, ‘family’ households will decrease from 72 percent of all households in 2006 to 67 percent in 2031. ‘Other multiperson’ households will remain relatively static at 4 percent of all households between 2006 and 2031.

Labour force

New Zealand's labour force is projected to rise from an estimated 2.24 million at 30 June 2006 to 2.75 million in 2031 and 3.00 million in 2061 (series 5M). The median age of the labour force was 36 years in 1991 and 40 years in 2006. A further increase in the median age to 42 years in 2011 is projected and it is likely to remain about 42–44 years through to 2061.

In 1991, the labour force aged 25–44 years (870,000) was almost double the labour force aged 45–64 years (440,000). By 2014, these age groups will be equal in number. There will also be a significant increase in the labour force aged 65 years and over, which is expected to increase from an estimated 25,000 in 1991 and 62,000 in 2006 to reach 240,000 in 2031 and 300,000 during the late 2050s.

More information

Demographic projections are updated and released every 2–3 years. The very latest projections, related articles and reports, and more detailed information are available from the estimates and projections web page on the Statistics NZ website.

More detailed projection results, including projections for individual years and projections by age and sex, are available from Table Builder on the Statistics NZ website.