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National Population Estimates: March 2012 quarter
Embargoed until 10:45am  –  14 May 2012

This information release contains provisional estimates of the resident population of New Zealand at 31 March 2012. National population estimates give the best available measure of the size and age-sex structure of the population usually living in New Zealand.

Population growth lowest since 2001

In the March 2012 year, the estimated resident population grew by 27,700 (0.6 percent), to reach 4,430,400. Population growth has slowed (it grew 40,900 or 0.9 percent in the previous March year). The 0.6 percent rise is the lowest growth for a March year since 2001, when the population increased 21,000 (0.5 percent).

The population growth during the March 2012 year was due to a natural increase (excess of births over deaths) of 31,100, offset by a net international migration loss of 3,400. Both natural increase and net international migration have fallen, compared to the previous March year (by 3,200 and 10,000, respectively).

New Zealand's estimated resident population was 3.9 million a decade ago. Over the last 10 years, the population has grown by 494,700, which is approximately equivalent to the population of the Wellington region. Our population is expected to continue growing. In 2021, the latest national population projections (series 5) indicate that there will be 4.8 million people in New Zealand.

Graph, Annual population change, 1998 to 2012.   Graph, Median age, by sex, 1998 to 2012.   

Median age draws near 37.0 years

New Zealand's population is ageing, due to sustained low fertility and low mortality rates. Latest national population projections (series 5) indicate that the median age of the New Zealand population will be 43.5 years in 2061. At 31 March 2012, half of New Zealand’s population was over 36.9 years, compared with 34.8 years a decade earlier.

Median age for females has increased more than for males over the last decade. The median age is now 38.1 years for females and 35.6 years for males. Median age for females has increased by 2.5 years over the last decade, while for males it has increased by 1.7 years. The lower median age for males largely reflects their lower life expectancy. On average, males can expect to live 79.1 years, compared with 82.8 years for females (New Zealand abridged life table, 2009–11).

Fewer children, more older people

The age structure of New Zealand’s population has changed over the last decade. At 31 March 2012: 

  • Children (aged 0–14 years) accounted for 20 percent (892,900) of the New Zealand population, down from 22 percent in 2002.
  • The younger working-age population (aged 15–39 years) remained the largest population group (1,500,700), and accounted for 34 percent of the total population, down from 36 percent in 2002. 
  • The older working-age population (aged 40–64 years) made up 32 percent (1,430,900) of New Zealand's population, up from 30 percent in 2002.
  • The population aged 65 years and over (aged 65+) accounted for 14 percent (605,800) of New Zealand’s population, up from 12 percent in 2002.
Graph, Population by broad age group, 1992 to 2012. Graph, Population aged 80+, by sex, 1992 to 2012.  

Population aged 65+ hits 600,000 mark

There are now 600,000 New Zealanders aged 65 years and over. As at 31 March 2012, one out of every 7 New Zealanders (14 percent) was over 65. Half a century ago, there were just over 200,000 people in this age group, which was only 8 percent of the total population.

Among the 65+ population, females significantly outnumber males, although the proportion of males in the 65+ population is increasing. During the 20-year period ending March 2012, the proportion of males aged 65+ has increased from 42 percent to 46 percent.

The fastest-growing segment of this age group is the group aged 80 years and over (80+). This group is growing at about twice the rate of those 65+ and about four times the rate of the total population in 1992. People aged 80+ now represent 26 percent of the older population (aged 65 years and over). The number of people in the 80+ age group is projected to more than triple from 158,600 in 2012 to 531,700 in 2052. See the latest national population projections (series 5) for more details.

For more detailed data see the Excel tables in the 'Downloads' box.

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