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National demographic projections

The projections give an indication of future changes in New Zealand's population, labour force, broad ethnic populations, and families and households. The following highlights are based on the respective mid-range projection, one of many projections produced.

Population

  • New Zealand’s population is projected to reach 5 million in the mid-2020s, and about 6 million in 2061, according to the 2011-base projections.
  • The population growth rate will slow steadily, because of the narrowing gap between births and deaths. From a natural increase (births minus deaths) of 31,000 in 2012, there is roughly a 3 in 4 chance that natural increase will be less than 25,000 in 2061, and roughly a 1 in 3 chance of natural decrease (more deaths than births) by 2061.
  • The age structure of the population will continue to undergo gradual but significant changes, resulting in more older people and further ageing of the population.
  • Half of New Zealand’s population could be older than 44 years by 2061, compared with a median age of 37 years in 2012.
  • The population aged 65 years and over (65+) will surpass 1 million in the late 2020s, compared with 600,000 in 2012.
  • By 2031, it is expected that between 20 and 22 percent of New Zealanders will be aged 65+, compared with 14 percent in 2012. By 2061, it is expected that between 22 and 30 percent of the population will be aged 65+.
  • By 2061, about 1 in 4 people aged 65+ will be 85+, compared with 1 in 8 in 2012.

Labour force

  • New Zealand's labour force is projected to keep increasing from an estimated 2.4 million in 2012 to 3.0 million in 2036 and 3.3 million in 2061.

Ethnic populations

  • The broad European, Māori, Asian, and Pacific ethnic populations are all projected to grow between 2006 and 2026.
  • The Asian, Pacific, and Māori ethnic populations are all projected to grow faster than the New Zealand population overall. As a result, these ethnic populations are expected to increase their share of the population.

Families and households

  • The numbers of families and households will grow faster than the population between 2006 and 2031, reflecting the trend towards smaller average household size.
  • The average size of households will decrease from 2.6 people in 2006 to 2.4 people in 2031.
  • One-person households are projected to increase by an average of 2.0 percent a year, from 363,000 in 2006 to 602,000 in 2031.
  • Most of the growth in families will be in couple-without-children families as the large number of people born during the 1950s to early 1970s reach the older ages.

Figure 7

Graph, Population by broad age group, 1951 to 2061.  Graph, Age distribution of population 1951–2061.

Note: The break in data between 1990 and 1991 denotes a change from the de facto population concept to the resident population concept.

Introduction

This chapter presents the latest national demographic projections for New Zealand. It includes projections of total population, population by age, ethnic populations, the number of households and families, and the labour force. These projections are not predictions or forecasts, but are an indication of future demographic change using assumptions about future patterns in fertility (births), mortality (deaths), migration, inter-ethnic mobility, living arrangement types, and labour force participation.

Multiple projections are produced to demonstrate the impact of different assumptions and because of uncertainty in future trends. However, because of space restrictions, only the respective mid-range projection is discussed in this commentary. In general, the mid-range projection conveys the broad features of likely future dynamics and patterns.

National population projections 2011(base)–2061, based on the estimated resident population of New Zealand at 30 June 2011, were released in July 2012. Corresponding national labour force projections were released in August 2012. These projections will be updated and released in 2014–15 following the availability of 2013 Census results.

Updated 2006-base national ethnic population projections and national family and household projections were released in 2010. These projections will be updated and released in 2015–16 following the availability of 2013 Census results.

New Zealand’s population

The projected shape of New Zealand’s future population will be noticeably different from what it is today. Population growth will slow between 2012 and 2061. The national population is expected to reach 5 million in the mid-2020s, and about 6 million in 2061 (median projection).

A population of 7 million or more by 2061 is unlikely. New Zealand would need sustained fertility and/or migration levels significantly higher than experienced in recent decades to reach a population that high.

The slowing of population growth during the projection period is driven by the narrowing gap between births and deaths. Future birth numbers are uncertain and depend on the number of women of childbearing age, as well as their fertility rates (how many children they have and the timing of their births). From 61,000 births in 2012, there is roughly a 3 in 5 chance that births will exceed 61,000 in 2036, and a similar chance that births will exceed 61,000 in 2061.

In contrast, the future number of deaths is more certain because these largely relate to people already alive, and mortality patterns are more consistent from year to year. From 30,000 deaths in 2012, it is highly likely that deaths will exceed 40,000 in 2036, and exceed 50,000 in 2051. The increase in deaths is despite assumed lower death rates and increased life expectancy at all ages, and reflects the increasing numbers of people reaching the older ages where most deaths occur.

Population by age

The projections indicate more older people and further ageing of the population. The median age (half the population is younger, and half older, than this age) of New Zealand’s population increased from 26 years in 1971 to 37 years in 2012. It is likely that half of the population will be aged 41 years and older by the late 2030s, and by 2061 half the population could be aged 44 years and older.

The number of children aged 0–14 years peaked at 940,000 in 1974, then decreased steadily to 770,000 in 1989, before generally increasing to 890,000 in 2012. The number of children may increase slightly to 940,000 in 2036 and 970,000 in 2061. Projections of the number of children are the most uncertain of all age groups because the number of future births is uncertain. Although the number of children may increase, it will not increase as fast as the older segment of the population. From 1 in 3 of the population during the early 1960s, and 1 in 5 of the population in 2012, it is highly likely that children will account for less than 1 in 5 of the population throughout the period to 2061.

The working-age population (those aged 15–64) more than doubled from 1.2 million in 1951 to 2.9 million in 2012. It is projected to grow gradually to 3.2 million in 2036 and 3.5 million in 2061. The working-age population will then make up 58 percent of the total population, compared with 66 percent in 2012.

The number of people aged 65+ has doubled since 1980, eclipsing 600,000 in 2012. The number is likely to double again by 2036. It is highly likely that there will be 1.18–1.25 million people aged 65+ in 2036, and 1.44–1.66 million in 2061. The largest growth will occur between 2011 and 2036 as the baby boomers move into the 65+ age group. From the late 2020s, the 65+ age group will make up over 20 percent of all New Zealanders, compared with 14 percent in 2012. From the late 2050s, this age group will comprise 25 percent of the population.

Labour force

New Zealand's labour force is projected to rise from an estimated 2.4 million at 30 June 2012 to 3.0 million in 2036 and 3.3 million in 2061 (median projection).

In 1991, the labour force aged 25–44 years (870,000) was almost double the labour force aged 45–64 years (440,000). By 2017, there will be roughly 1 million in each age group.

There will also be a significant increase in the labour force aged 65+, which is expected to increase from an estimated 25,000 in 1991 and 130,000 in 2012 to 240,000–500,000 in 2036 and 280,000–660,000 in 2061.

This increase is driven by increasing participation of older people in the labour force, as well as the burgeoning older population. Among those aged 65+, 1 in 16 were in the labour force in 1991. It was 1 in 5 in 2012, and is projected to increase to 1 in 3 by the mid-2020s. As a result, by 2036, it is expected that between 9 and 15 percent of the labour force will be aged 65+, compared with 3 percent in 2006. By 2061, it is expected that between 10 and 18 percent of the labour force will be aged 65+.

The median age of the labour force was 36 years in 1991 and 42 years in 2012. A further increase in the median age is likely, to 43 years in the mid-2030s and 45 years in 2061.

Major ethnic groups

Ethnic diversity is set to increase in New Zealand in the future. All ethnic populations will increase numerically, but their relative percentages of the New Zealand population are projected to change considerably. Māori will comprise 16 percent of the population in 2026, up from 15 percent in 2006 (mid-range projection series 6). In a similar trend, Pacific peoples will comprise 10 percent of the population in 2026, up from 7 percent in 2006.

The most significant change will be to the broad Asian ethnic group, comprising 16 percent of the total population by 2026, up from 10 percent in 2006. ‘European or Other (including New Zealander)’ will still be the largest ethnic group, making up 70 percent of the total population in 2026, although this is a drop from 77 percent in 2006.

The growth of the Asian population is mainly driven by net migration gains. For the Māori and Pacific populations, the growth is mainly driven by higher fertility rates combined with a youthful age structure.

Each ethnic population consists of all people who identify with that ethnicity. It is important to note these populations are not mutually exclusive because people can and do identify with more than one ethnicity, and can therefore be counted in more than one ethnic population.

Families

The number of families is projected to reach 1.46 million by 2031 (mid-range projection series 5B), an increase of 288,000 (an average annual increase of 0.9 percent a year) from an estimated 1.17 million families at 30 June 2006.

‘Couple without children’ families will grow from 40 percent of all families in 2006 to 50 percent in 2031, surpassing two-parent families, which will decrease from 41 percent of all families in 2006 to 32 percent in 2031. These changes are largely the result of changes in the age structure of the population, and partly because of continuing trends towards single parenting and fewer couples having children. The share of one-parent families is projected to be relatively static, decreasing from 19 percent to 18 percent of all families between 2006 and 2031.

Households

The number of households is projected to reach 2.09 million by 2031 (mid-range projection series 5B), an increase of 536,000 (an average annual increase of 1.2 percent a year) from an estimated 1.55 million households at 30 June 2006.

There will also be a shift in household types. One-person households are projected to be the fastest-growing household type, increasing by 240,000 (an average of 2.0 percent a year) from 363,000 in 2006 to 602,000 in 2031. One-person households will account for 29 percent of all households in 2031, up from 23 percent in 2006. On the other hand, ‘family’ households will decrease from 72 percent of all households in 2006 to 67 percent in 2031. ‘Other multiperson’ households will remain relatively static at 4 percent of all households between 2006 and 2031.

More information

Demographic projections are updated and released every 2–3 years. The latest projections, related articles and reports, and more detailed information are available from the estimates and projections web page on the Statistics NZ website.

More detailed projection results, including projections for individual years and projections by age and sex, are available from Table Builder on the Statistics NZ website.

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