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Introduction to the New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings

Why is the census important?

The New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings provides the official count of all people and dwellings in New Zealand and gives detailed demographic and socio-economic information at the community level. It is unique in its ability to provide information to very low geographical levels and for very small population groups such as iwi.

The statistics from this major national event underpin and inform government allocation of billions of dollars for health, housing, transport, and education. The census informs social policy, targeted funding regimes, and planning of services. The Electoral Act 1993 requires the Government Statistician to calculate Māori and general electoral populations from the census and results from the Māori electoral option. Electoral populations are used to determine the number and boundaries of Māori and general electorates.

Beyond central and local government, the range of uses and users of census information is vast. With the recognised value in making informed and targeted decisions, significant use is made of census data in both the public and private sectors. Uses include:

  • planning by local councils, iwi, and community groups
  • academic and market research
  • construction of key measures such as the New Zealand Deprivation Index
  • use by Statistics NZ itself for population estimates and projections and statistical benchmarking essential for many outputs and surveys – each of which have their own important set of uses and customers.

Census forms part of a wider statistical system of administrative collections, sample surveys, and linked administrative and survey data.

The roles of Statistics NZ and the Government Statistician

Statistics NZ’s vision is to unleash the power of data to change lives. As part of this vision, we have defined four roles for ourselves:

  • provider – provide independent and trusted data
  • enabler – enable New Zealand decision-makers
  • innovator – innovate to drive value for customers
  • steward – steward data now and in the future.

We achieve our vision by being a leader within the data ecosystem and being a major producer of New Zealand’s official statistics. Official statistics are those produced by government departments and Crown entities (often using international standards and frameworks) that cover economic, environmental, and social areas.

Data sources used to produce official statistics include the census, surveys, and increasingly, administrative data – ie information collected for administrative purposes, usually when providing a service such as health or education.

Because census is a major source of data for official statistics, it’s important we get the content right.

The Government Statistician makes final decisions on census content, within the context of the Statistics Act 1975.

The place of census in the wider statistical system

At Statistics NZ, we are committed to ensuring that New Zealand has the key information needed to function effectively in a rapidly evolving world.

With technological advancements and an expanding wealth of data available, we have opportunities to improve the value of our products and services through a more integrated approach to data, statistics, and dissemination. We aim to maximise the effective use of all available data sources in developing statistical solutions to meet customer needs. This will allow us to produce statistics more efficiently and reduce the burden on respondents – for example by meeting information needs directly from administrative data or from modelling survey and administrative data.

While moving to a fully integrated statistical system will take time, it is important to consider customer needs within this broader context.

The census provides broad information on a range of topics at regular intervals, and is a key source of information on small geographic areas and small population groups (eg iwi, recent migrants, and one-parent families). It provides the benchmark for population counts at national and local levels, and a robust framework for developing sampling frames for surveys, including surveys on specific populations such as Māori and people with disabilities.

However, the census is not the most appropriate way to collect some types of information. Information that is complex, sensitive, or which changes significantly over short periods is better collected through household sample surveys or administrative collections. For example:

  • the Household Economic Survey is a more appropriate source than the census for providing accurate, detailed information on income and wealth
  • administrative data from the tax system is an important source of high-quality data on income and earnings
  • the Time Use Survey provides information of far greater depth on unpaid and voluntary work than is possible from the census
  • the New Zealand General Social Survey is the best means of understanding the well-being of New Zealanders.

Our long-term vision (outlined in Census transformation in New Zealand) is to produce census information directly from administrative sources, where possible. Our investigations show that existing administrative data sources cannot yet replace current census and population statistics. However, there is scope for using more administrative data in the current census model to improve the quality of existing outputs – eg using administrative data on income when respondents don’t give this information in the census.

By using all available data sources, we can get more value from our data and meet customer needs more effectively. This more integrated view of our statistics is reflected in this preliminary view of content for the 2018 Census. It will continue to inform decisions as work progresses.

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