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Population growth

The last half of the 20th century has seen rapid growth in the size of Pacific communities in New Zealand. At the time of the 1945 Census of Population and Dwellings, there were fewer than 2,200 Pacific people living in New Zealand. This population grew steadily, but relatively slowly, until the 1960s, when migration accelerated in response to population pressures in the Pacific nations and demand for labour in New Zealand’s expanding secondary industries.

 Figure 1.1

Graph, Growth of Pacific population in NZ.

Most migration from the Pacific to New Zealand came from the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji. People from the Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau held New Zealand citizenship and therefore had unrestricted rights of entry and settlement in New Zealand. People from other Pacific nations, particularly Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji, entered New Zealand in a range of ways, including temporary permits, quota schemes and family reunification policies.

This migration fuelled population growth in the 1960s and 1970s, so that by the time of the 1976 Census there were almost 65,700 Pacific people living in New Zealand, making up 2.1 percent of the total population. Economic downturn in the 1970s resulted in a more restrictive immigration policy, but many Pacific people retained rights of entry to New Zealand, and so migration continued, albeit at lower levels. Since the mid-1990s, net migration gains from the Pacific have averaged 3,300 per year. The Pacific population in New Zealand has continued to grow rapidly, mainly owing to a high rate of natural increase, described below. By the 2006 Census, Pacific people in New Zealand numbered 266,000 and made up 6.9 percent of the population.

As the Pacific population is a young one, with low rates of mortality and high rates of fertility, the excess of births over deaths produces a high natural rate of population growth. Pacific people are more likely than others to be in the age groups when most childbearing takes place and tend to have more children, with a fertility rate of three births per woman, compared with two births per woman for the total population. Because of their younger age structure they have a lower crude death rate of 3.2 deaths per 1,000 people per year, compared with 6.6 per 1,000 for the total population.

Inter-ethnic partnering and inter-ethnic mobility (people changing their ethnic identification over time) also contribute to population growth. Individuals may choose to identify or not identify with Pacific ethnicities for different reasons.
As figure 1.2 shows, Samoans are by far the largest Pacific group in New Zealand, numbering over 131,000 people at the time of the 2006 Census. This was almost half the Pacific population and 3.3 percent of the total New Zealand population. The Samoan population grew by 64,800 people, or 98 percent, between 1986 and 2006. This compares with a growth of 23.4 percent for the total New Zealand population. Because the Samoan population is so much larger than the other groups, it has a substantial impact on the characteristics of the Pacific population as a whole. While there is some variation between the economic positions of the various Pacific ethnic groups, the position of Samoans tends to mirror that of the total Pacific population. This issue will be explored in future reports.

Figure 1.2

Graph, growth of Pacific ethnic groups

Cook Islands people make up the next largest group, with 58,000 living in New Zealand in 2006, an increase of 24,900 since 1986. The fastest rate of growth was in the Tongan community, which grew more than threefold between 1986 and 2006 from 13,600 to over 50,500. While most of the major Pacific groups continued to show steady growth throughout the period, the Fijian population declined slightly from almost 7,700 to just over 7,000 between 1996 and 2001, a period when there was increased emigration by earlier immigrants.1 However, from 2001 to 2006 the Fijian population increased to 9,900.

Other Pacific groups outside the six main groups have also increased in numbers, from just under 2,000 in 1986 to almost 9,000 in 2006. The largest of these groups in 2006 were Tuvaluans (2,600), Tahitians (1,300), and I-Kiribati (1,100).2

Table 1.1 shows that there are more Pacific people from Niue, the Cook Islands, and Tokelau living in New Zealand than in their respective home countries. In particular, the Niuean population living in New Zealand is 10 times greater than the population living in Niue.

Table 1.1

Table, Size of main Pacific ethnic groups in NZ and estimated resident population in home country


1 Population changes between censuses may be affected by changes in the census ethnicity question. The 1996 question differed slightly from the 1991 and 2001 questions, resulting in more people specifying more than one ethnic group. While this does not appear to have had a major effect on the size of the Pacific population as a whole, it may have resulted in the 1996 figures for some Pacific groups being slightly inflated relative to the 1991 and 2001 figures. This may have contributed to the slight fall in the Fijian population between 1996 and 2001, although it is difficult to quantify this.

2 The census allows people to specify more than one ethnic group. All ethnicity data in this report is based on total responses for each group, so if people specified more than one Pacific ethnic group (eg Samoan and Niuean) they are counted in each of these groups.


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