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Subnational Population Estimates: At 30 June 2012
Embargoed until 10:45am  –  23 October 2012

This information release contains provisional estimates of the resident population of New Zealand's 16 regional council areas and 67 territorial authority areas at 30 June 2012. Population estimates give the best available measure of the size and age-sex composition of the population usually living in each area. While the population estimates are based on available data, uncertainty is inherent in the estimation process, and the estimates will be revised after the next Census of Population and Dwellings. Uncertainty increases as population estimates are broken down by age, sex, and geographic area.

International migration and earthquakes affect local population change

The main trends in the June 2012 year were:

  • Lower population growth for most areas, reflecting lower growth for New Zealand as a whole.
  • Further population decline in Christchurch following the 2010/11 Canterbury earthquakes.
  • Significant population growth in neighbouring districts of Christchurch, partly related to the inflow of people from earthquake-affected areas.

New Zealand's population growth slows

New Zealand's population grew by 28,000 (0.6 percent) during the June 2012 year, compared with 37,400 (0.9 percent) in the previous June year. The reduced population growth was due to more international migrant departures (up 9 percent), fewer births (down 3 percent), and more deaths (up 2 percent). The annual growth of 0.6 percent was the lowest since 2001.

Population growth in the June 2012 year resulted from a natural increase (more births than deaths) of 31,100, partly offset by a net migration loss (more departures than arrivals) of 3,200. Historically, natural increase has contributed most to New Zealand's population growth – about four-fifths over the last 40 years.

Christchurch city's population decrease smaller than last year

Before the 2010/11 Canterbury earthquakes, Christchurch city's population was growing. In the four-year period ended 30 June 2010, the city's population grew at an average annual rate of 1.0 percent, with population gains from both natural increase (2,200 per year on average) and net migration gain (more arrivals than departures) of 1,600 per year on average.

The latest population estimates indicate that Christchurch city's population decreased by 4,600 (1.2 percent) in the June 2012 year. This population decrease was due to a net migration loss of 6,000, partly offset by a natural increase of 1,400.

In the previous June year, Christchurch city's population decreased by 8,900 (2.4 percent) due to a net migration loss of 10,600, partly offset by a natural increase of 1,600. Therefore, in the two-year period ended 30 June 2012, the city's population declined by 13,500 (3.6 percent) due to a net migration loss of 16,600, partly offset by a natural increase of 3,100.

 Graph, Population change for Christchurch, Waimakariri, and Selwyn, year ended 30 June 1997 to 2012.

Statistics NZ continued to use a number of data sources to assess population change in Christchurch city, and New Zealand's other subnational areas, during the June 2012 year (see Estimating local populations after the 2010/11 Canterbury earthquakes). Some of these data sources – including international migration statistics, primary health organisation enrolments, linked employer-employee data, school rolls, and electoral enrolments – provide information that can be broken down by age. Collectively, they indicate that population change in Christchurch city was unevenly distributed across age groups.

Between 30 June 2010 and 2012, the population aged 0–19 years in Christchurch city decreased by 9,300 (9.6 percent), while the population aged 35–49 years decreased by 5,700 (7.0 percent). This indicates a net outflow of children and their parents over this period. A decrease of 2,900 people aged 15–19 years reflects fewer young adults moving to Christchurch to study.

Within the younger adult population, however, there were some interesting contrasts. The male population aged 20–34 years increased by 500 over the two-year period, while the corresponding female population decreased by 1,700. This reflects a net inflow of young male workers.

Over the two-year period, the population aged 50 years and over (50+) grew slightly, up 2,700 (2.3 percent). This was due to people moving into this age group from younger ages, but it also indicates that people aged 50+ were less likely to leave Christchurch over this period.

 Graph, Christchurch population change, by age group and sex, between 30 June 2010 and 2012.

South Island’s population growth dampened by Christchurch

An estimated 1.04 million people lived in the South Island at 30 June 2012. The small increase of 200 in the June 2012 year was due to a natural increase of 4,200, offset by a net migration loss of 4,000. The South Island has grown by just 200 per year in the last two years. By comparison, the South Island grew by an average of 9,900 per year in the four years to 30 June 2010. 

Selwyn district maintained the country's highest growth rate (2.9 percent) in the June 2012 year. Eight other South Island territorial authority areas grew at a rate faster than the national average (0.6 percent), including Hurunui, Ashburton, Queenstown-Lakes, Waimakariri, and Mackenzie districts.

Of the 23 territorial authority areas within the South Island, six other areas in addition to Christchurch experienced population decreases, including the districts of Kaikoura (down 1.7 percent) and Clutha (down 1.1 percent).

Graph, Fastest-growing territorial authority areas, year ended 30 June 2012.

Main cities drive population growth in North Island

The population of the North Island grew by 27,800 (0.8 percent) in the June 2012 year. The growth was due to natural increase of 26,900 and net migration gain of 900.

Population growth in the North Island was largely concentrated in the most populous cities, especially Auckland. Collectively, the four cities of Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton, and Palmerston North accounted for 98 percent of the North Island's population growth in the June 2012 year. These four areas made up 57 percent of the North Island's population at 30 June 2012.

Of the 43 North Island territorial authority areas, about half recorded a population decrease in the June 2012 year. The largest rates of population decrease were in Opotiki (down 2.6 percent) and Wairoa districts (down 2.5 percent).

 Graph, Population change, North Island territorial authority areas, year ended June 30 2012.

Graph, Population change, South Island territorial authority areas, year ended June 30 2012.  

Hamilton city has lowest median age

Half of New Zealand's population was aged over 37.0 years at 30 June 2012. Of New Zealand's 67 territorial authority areas, 13 had a lower median age than the national average, with Hamilton city having the lowest median age of 31.7 years. Other territorial authority areas with a relatively young population included the cities of Palmerston North (32.4 years), Porirua and Wellington (both 33.6 years), Auckland (34.3 years), and Dunedin (34.6 years).

For many areas a low median age indicates a high proportion of children. Dunedin and Wellington, however, have a low proportion of children. Only 15 percent of Dunedin's population is aged under 15 years, and only 17 percent of Wellington's population, compared with 20 percent nationally. Both cities have a high proportion of people aged 15–29 years.

 Graph, Territorial authority areas with lowest median age, at 30 June 2012.  Graph, Territorial authority areas with highest percentage aged 65 years and over, at 30 June 2012.

More deaths in areas with more older people

Four territorial authority areas recorded natural decreases (more deaths than births) in the June 2012 year: Thames-Coromandel, Timaru, Kapiti Coast, and Waimate districts. All four areas have a high percentage of their population aged 65 years and over (65+). At 30 June 2012, 25 percent of the Kapiti Coast district's population was aged 65+, compared with the national average of 14 percent.

During the six years ended 30 June 2012, the number of people aged 65+ increased in all territorial authority areas. The latest subnational population projections indicate that this growth will continue over the coming decades.

Population growth slows in most regions

Of New Zealand's 16 regional council areas (regions), 13 experienced population growth in the June 2012 year. Auckland dominated regional growth, up 1.5 percent. Waikato and Nelson (both up 0.8 percent) grew slightly above the national average (0.6 percent).

All regions had a natural increase (more births than deaths) during the June 2012 year. However, all regions except Auckland had net losses from international migration. As a result, most regions had lower population growth than in 2011, while Canterbury, Hawke's Bay, and West Coast experienced small population decreases.

 Graph, Regional population change, year ended 30 June 2012.

The population of the earthquake-affected Canterbury region decreased by 1,800 (0.3 percent) in the June 2012 year. This compares with a decrease of 5,000 (0.9 percent) in the June 2011 year.

Excluding Christchurch, the remainder of the Canterbury region grew 2,800 (1.4 percent) in the June 2012 year. This compares with an increase of 4,000 (2.1 percent) in the June 2011 year.

1 in 3 New Zealanders live in Auckland

Auckland has been the fastest-growing region over the last decade. In the June 2012 year:

  • Auckland's population grew by 21,700 (1.5 percent), to reach 1.51 million.
  • Three-quarters of New Zealand's population growth was in Auckland.
  • Two-thirds of Auckland's population growth was contributed by natural increase, and one-third came from net migration gain. 

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

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