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National Population Estimates: December 2010 quarter
Embargoed until 10:45am  –  14 February 2011


This release contains estimates of the resident population of New Zealand at 31 December 2010. Tables are included at the end of this release with estimated resident population and population change, estimated resident population by broad age group and sex, and by five-year age group and sex. Estimates by single-year of age are available from Infoshare on the Statistics New Zealand website (demography age estimates in the 'Population' category).

Population estimates give the best available measure of the size and age-sex structure of the population usually living in an area. Estimates are based on the latest census data and on births, deaths, and migration since the census. National population estimates are published quarterly and subnational population estimates are published annually.

The estimates in this release are provisional. They incorporate provisional estimates of the number of births and deaths that occurred in the December 2010 quarter. Final estimates will be released in May 2011. In addition, population estimates after 30 June 2006 will be revised following results from the 2011 Census of Population and Dwellings.

In this release, a special topic analyses the growing number of centenarians. Recent releases have included special topics on the mean, median, and modal age of the population, 1970–2010, components of population change, 1970–2010, median age of the population aged 65 years and over, trends in the number of children (aged 0–14 years), 1969–2009, and trends in the working-age population, 1979–2009.

Estimated resident population

The estimated resident population of New Zealand was 4,393,500 at 31 December 2010, comprising 2,158,400 males and 2,235,100 females. At 31 December 2010, there were 97 males for every 100 females. The estimated resident population for the mean year ended 31 December 2010 was 4,370,200.

 Graph, Estimated resident population, 1996–2010 as 31 December.

Annual population change

In the December 2010 year, the estimated resident population grew by 46,300 (1.1 percent), compared with 55,600 (1.3 percent) in the previous December year. The population growth in the December 2010 year was less than the average annual increase of 52,000 (1.3 percent) recorded during the 10-year period to December 2010.

The population growth for the December 2010 year resulted from a natural increase (excess of births over deaths) of 35,800 and a net permanent and long-term (PLT) migration gain of 10,500. The level of net PLT migration has decreased by around 11,000 since the previous December year.

Historically, natural increase has been the dominant component of population growth. Over the last 40 years, natural increase has accounted for around 80 percent of New Zealand's total population growth. During the December 2010 year, natural increase accounted for 77 percent of population growth.

 Graph, Annual population change, 1996–2010 December year.

Quarterly population change

During the December 2010 quarter, New Zealand's estimated resident population grew by 12,600 (0.3 percent). This growth resulted from a natural increase of 9,200 and a net PLT migration gain of 3,400. In the December 2009 quarter natural increase was comparable (9,000), while net migration was higher (6,900), resulting in quarterly population growth of 15,900 (0.4 percent).

Median age

New Zealand has an ageing population because of a shift to sustained low fertility and low mortality rates. This shift is also observed across other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). At 31 December 2010, half of New Zealand's population was over 36.7 years, compared with a median age of 34.5 years a decade earlier. The median age for males is now 35.5 years, while for females it is 37.7 years. The lower median age for males largely reflects their lower life expectancy of 78.4 years, compared with 82.4 years for females (New Zealand abridged life table, 2007–09). Latest national population projections (2009 base–2061 update) indicate that the median age of the New Zealand population will be 43.5 years in 2061 (series 5).

 Graph, Median age by sex, 1996–2010 at 31 December.

Centenarians: A growing demographic 

The number of centenarians (people aged 100 years and over) has increased significantly over the last 60 years. As of 2011, there are likely to be 400–500 centenarians currently living in New Zealand. Of these, fewer than 40 would be aged 105 years or over.

Population estimates of the oldest ages are sensitive to miscount since there are so few centenarians. A more reliable estimate can be derived retrospectively from death registrations. During 1950–2010, there were about 4,500 deaths of centenarians, comprising 3,700 females and 800 males. Of these, about 320 females and 50 males were aged 105 years or over. If migration of the centenarians into and out of New Zealand is assumed to be negligible, one can work backwards from death registrations to calculate how many were alive at a previous date. This method requires waiting for a few years to get a reliable measure of how many people were alive. For this reason, the accompanying graph does not show the number of centenarians alive currently.  

Estimates derived from death registrations suggest the number of centenarians has risen steadily from the 1980s. This increase is supported by census counts. The rise in the number of centenarians reflects the growing New Zealand population overall and declining death rates at all ages. Female death rates remain lower than male death rates at every age. As a result, there are around six female centenarians for every male centenarian.

The number of centenarians is likely to increase significantly in future. Population projections include assumptions about future fertility, mortality, and migration rates. Projections of the population in the oldest ages are sensitive to mortality assumptions. Nevertheless, Statistics NZ's projections (2009-base, series 5, released in October 2009) indicate that the population aged 90 years and over is likely to more than double between 2010 and 2030 to reach 49,000. Alternative projection series 1 and 9 suggest that by 2030 the population aged 90 years and over could number 41,000 and 58,000, respectively. 

 Graph, Estimated population aged 100+ years, 1950–2006.

Changes in age composition

The age composition of New Zealand's population has changed over the past decade. In the 10 years ended 31 December 2010, the number of children (aged 0–14 years) grew to 895,300, an average annual increase of 1,700 (0.2 percent). For the year ended 31 December 2010, the increase of 2,200 (0.2 percent) in the number of children was greater than the average annual increase for the decade. At 31 December 2010, children accounted for 20 percent of the New Zealand population, down from 23 percent at 31 December 2000.

At 31 December 2010, the population aged 15–39 years remained the largest population group, accounting for 34 percent of the total population, down from 36 percent a decade earlier. This age group reached 1,501,900, up by 7,700 (0.5 percent) compared with the December 2009 figure. In the 10 years ended December 2010, the average annual increase for this age group was 10,500 (0.7 percent).

The population aged 40–64 also remained a large proportion of the population, increasing from 29 percent to 32 percent in the decade ended 31 December 2010. This age group increased by 18,100 (1.3 percent) in the year ended 31 December 2010, to reach 1,417,800. The increase was below the average annual increase of 27,700 (2.2 percent) for the 10 years ended December 2010.

 Graph, Average annual population change, by age group and sex, 10 years ended December 2010.

The proportion of the population aged 65–79 years was 9.7 percent at 31 December 2010, up from 9.0 percent in 2000. During the December 2010 year, the population aged 65–79 years increased by 3.1 percent (12,900) to reach 425,100. In the 10 years ended December 2010, this age group grew at an average annual rate of 2.1 percent (7,800).

In the 10 years ended December 2010, there was also an increase in the proportion of the population aged 80 years and over (80+), from 2.8 percent to 3.5 percent. The 80+ population reached 153,400 at 31 December 2010, an average annual increase of 3.4 percent (4,300) over the decade. The size and growth rate of this age group varied significantly by sex. The average annual growth rate for males for the decade was 4.9 percent, compared with 2.5 percent for females. In the year ended 31 December 2010, the male population in the 80+ age group increased by 5.1 percent (2,900) to reach 60,200, while the female population increased by 2.8 percent (2,500) to 93,200.

Population clock

Statistics NZ's online population clock gives a real-time approximation of the estimated resident population of New Zealand. The population clock uses the latest quarterly estimated resident population, and estimates for the expected number of births, deaths, and net migration during the following quarter. The settings for each component (births, deaths, and net migration) are derived by converting the quarterly estimated totals into a 'per minute' figure, making allowance for the number of days per quarter. The population clock can be viewed on the Statistics NZ website:

Different population measures

Users of population statistics need to be aware that there are three main population measures produced by Statistics NZ: the census night population count, the census usually resident population count, and the estimated resident population. The population counts published from the census are not comparable with the estimated resident population. The estimated resident population includes adjustments for net census undercount and for New Zealand residents temporarily overseas on census night. For more information see the 'Technical notes' section of this release.

For technical information contact: 
Esther Hogenhout or Simon Pang
Christchurch 03 964 8700

Next release...

National Population Estimates: March 2011 quarter will be released on 13 May 2011.

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