Demographics of New Zealand

Demographics of New Zealand

Population pyramid taken from the 2013 Census
Population 4,693,000
Density 17.5/km2 (45.3/sq mi)
Growth rate 1.9%[1]
Birth rate 13.27 per 1000 pop.[2]
Death rate 6.87 per 1000 pop.[2]
Life expectancy
  male 79.5 years
  female 83.2 years
Fertility rate 1.99 births per woman[2]
Infant mortality rate 4.11 per 1000 live births[2]
Net migration rate 12.68 per 1000 pop.[1]
Age structure
0–14 years 19.9%[1]
15–64 years 65.4%[1]
65 and over 14.7%[1]
Sex ratio
Total 0.97 males/female[1]
Under 15 1.05 males/female[1]
15–64 years 0.96 males/female[1]
65 and over 0.86 males/female[1]
Nationality New Zealander
Major ethnic European 74.0%
Minor ethnic

The demographics of New Zealand encompass the gender, ethnic, religious, geographic, and economic backgrounds of the 4.7 million people living in New Zealand. New Zealanders, informally known as "Kiwis", predominantly live in urban areas on the North Island. The five largest cities are Auckland (with one-third of the country's population), Christchurch (in the South Island, the largest island of the New Zealand archipelago), Wellington, Hamilton and Tauranga. Few New Zealanders live on New Zealand's smaller islands. Waiheke Island (near Auckland) is easily the most populated smaller island with 9,150 residents, while Great Barrier Island, the Chatham and Pitt Islands and Stewart Island each have populations below 1,000. New Zealand is part of a realm and most people born in the realm's external territories of Tokelau, the Ross Dependency, the Cook Islands and Niue are entitled to New Zealand passports. In 2006, more people who identified themselves with these islands lived in New Zealand than on the Islands themselves.

The majority of New Zealand's population is of European descent (69 percent identify as "New Zealand European"), with the indigenous Māori being the largest minority (14.6 percent), followed by Asians (9.2 percent) and non-Māori Pacific Islanders (6.9 percent). This is reflected in immigration, with most new migrants coming from Britain and Ireland, although the numbers from Asia are increasing. In 2001 an estimated 460,000 New Zealanders lived abroad, mostly in Australia, representing nearly one-quarter of NZ's highly skilled workforce. The largest Māori iwi is Ngapuhi with 122,211 people or 24 percent of the Māori population. Auckland is the most ethnically diverse region in New Zealand with 56.5 percent identifying as Europeans, 18.9 percent as Asian, 11.1 percent as Māori and 14.4 percent as other Pacific Islanders. The ethnicity of the population aged under 18 years is more diverse (72 percent European, 24 percent Māori, 12 percent Pacific and 10 percent Asian) than the population aged 65 years or older (91 percent European, 5 percent Māori, 4 percent Asian and 2 percent Pacific). Recent increases in interracial marriages have resulted in more people identifying with more than one ethnic group.

Estimates based on the 2013 census in New Zealand classify 14.90% of the population of New Zealand as Maori, 11.80% of the population as Asian (deriving from various nations in Asia), 7.40% as of Pacific Islander origin (including from the Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau, all of which are dependent states of New Zealand in the Pacific), and 1.20% as individuals of Middle-Eastern, Latin American, and African descent. Approximately three-quarters of the population of New Zealand during the census were of European ethnicity.[3]

English, Māori and New Zealand Sign Language are the official languages, with English predominant. New Zealand English is mostly non-rhotic and sounds similar to Australian English, with a common exception being the centralisation of the short i. The Maori language (te reo) has undergone a process of revitalisation and is spoken by 4.1 percent of the population. New Zealand has an adult literacy rate of 99 percent and over half of the population aged 15 to 29 hold a tertiary qualification. In the adult population 14.2 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher, 30.4 percent have some form of secondary qualification as their highest qualification and 22.4 percent have no formal qualification. As of the 2013 census, just under half the population identify as Christians, with Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam being the most significant minority religions.[4] New Zealand has no state religion and just over 40% of the population do not have a religion.

Farming is a major occupation in New Zealand, although more people are employed as sales assistants. Most New Zealanders earn wage or salary income, with a median personal income in 2006 of $24,400. Unemployment stood at 5.1 percent in June 2016.


While the demonym for a New Zealand citizen is New Zealander, the informal "Kiwi" is commonly used both internationally[5] and by locals.[6] The name derives from the kiwi, a native flightless bird, which is the national symbol of New Zealand. The Māori loanword Pākehā usually refers to New Zealanders of European descent, although some reject this appellation,[7][8] and some Māori use it to refer to all non-Polynesian New Zealanders.[9] Most people born in New Zealand or one of the realm's external territories (Tokelau, the Ross Dependency, the Cook Islands and Niue) before 2006 are New Zealand citizens. Further conditions apply for those born from 2006 onwards.[10]


Graph with a New Zealand population scale ranging from 0 to almost 7 million on the y axis and the years from 1850 to around 2070 on the x axis. A black line starts at about 100,000 in 1858 and increases steadily to about 4.1 million in 2006. Seven separate red lines then project out from the black line ending in values ranging from roughly 4.5 to 6.5 million in the year 2061; two lines are slightly thicker than the rest.
New Zealand's historical population (black) and projected growth (red)

In 2014 New Zealand has an estimated population of just over 4.5 million,[11] up from the 4,027,947 recorded in the 2006 census.[12] The median child birthing age was 30 and the fertility rate is 2.1 births per woman in 2010. In Māori populations the median age is 26 and fertility rate 2.8.[13] In 2010 the Age-standardized mortality rate was 3.8 deaths per 1000 (down from 4.8 in 2000) and the infant mortality rate for the total population was 5.1 deaths per 1000 live births.[13] The life expectancy of a New Zealand child born in 2008 was 82.4 years for females, and 78.4 years for males.[14] Life expectancy at birth is forecast to increase from 80 years to 85 years in 2050 and infant mortality is expected to decline.[15] In 2050 the population is forecast to reach 5.3 million, the median age to rise from 36 years to 43 years and the percentage of people 60 years of age and older rising from 18 percent to 29 percent.[15] During early migration in 1858, New Zealand had 131 males for every 100 females, but following changes in migration patterns and the modern longevity advantage of women, females came to outnumber males in 1971.[16] As of 2012 there are 0.99 males per female, with males dominating under 15 years and females dominating in the 65 years and older range.[17]


Population density

Population density as of the 2006 census
  Fewer than 1 person per square km
  1 person per square km and above
  10 people per square km and above
  250 people per square km and above
  1000 people per square km and above
  4000 people per square km and above

Over three-quarters of New Zealands population live in the North Island (76.6 percent) with one-third of the total population living in the Auckland Region. This region is also the fastest growing, accounting for 46 percent of New Zealand's total population growth. Most Māori live in the North Island (87 percent), although less than a quarter (24 percent) live in Auckland. New Zealand is a predominantly urban country, with 86.4 percent of the population living in an urban area. About 73.0 percent of the population live in the 17 main urban areas (population of 30,000 or more) and 53.7 percent live in the four largest cities of Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, and Hamilton.[19]

Approximately 14 percent of the population live in four different categories of rural areas as defined by Statistics New Zealand. About 18 percent of the rural population live in areas that have a high urban influence (roughly 12.9 people per square kilometre), many working in the main urban area. Rural areas with moderate urban influence and a population density of about 6.5 people per square kilometre account for 26 percent of the rural population. Areas with low urban influence where the majority of the residents work in the rural area house approximately 42 percent of the rural population. Remote rural areas with a density of less than 1 person per square kilometre account for about 14 percent of the rural population.[20]

The vast majority of the population live on the main North and South Islands, with New Zealand's major inhabited smaller islands being Waiheke Island (9,150), Chatham and Pitt Islands (610), and Stewart Island (402).[21] In 2006, 15,342 people were residents of the Cook Islands, with two thirds living on Rarotonga, and the other third spread over the other 14 islands.[22] The resident population of Tokelau and Niue was 1,466[23] and 1,625[24] respectively in 2006. At the time 58,008 Cook Islanders, 22,476 Niueans and 6,819 Tokelauans lived in New Zealand.[25]

Regions and urban areas

Before local government reforms in the late 1980s, a borough council with more than 20,000 people could be proclaimed a city.[26] The boundaries of councils tended to follow the edge of the built-up area, so there was little difference between the urban area and the local government area. In 1989 the councils were consolidated into 67 territorial authorities and 11 regional councils, which cover a much wider area and population.[27] Today the term "city" may be used in an unofficial capacity to describe a large urban area, irrespective of local government (council) boundaries. The twenty-largest urban areas (or cities) are listed below:


Lion dancers wearing bright red and yellow costumes
New Zealand's fastest growing ethnic groups are Asian. Here, lion dancers perform at the Auckland Lantern Festival.
Countries of birth of New Zealand residents, 2013 census[28]
Country Number %
 New Zealand 2,980,827 74.85
 United Kingdom[lower-alpha 1] 256,164 6.43
 China[lower-alpha 2] 96,441 2.42
 India 67,176 1.69
 Australia 62,712 1.57
 South Africa 54,279 1.36
 Fiji 52,755 1.32
 Samoa 50,658 1.27
 Philippines 37,299 0.94
 South Korea 26,604 0.67
 Tonga 22,416 0.56
 United States 21,462 0.54
 Netherlands 19,815 0.50
 Malaysia 16,353 0.41
 Cook Islands 12,954 0.33
 Germany 12,942 0.32
 Japan 10,269 0.26
Other countries 188,814 4.74

East Polynesians were the first people to reach New Zealand about 1280, followed by the early European explorers, notably James Cook in 1769 who explored New Zealand three times and mapped the coastline. Following the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 when the country became a British colony, immigrants were predominantly from Britain, Ireland and Australia. Due to restrictive policies similar to the white Australian policies limitations were placed on non-European immigrants.[29] During the gold rush period (1858-1880s) large number of young men came from California and Victoria to New Zealand goldfields. Apart from British, there were Irish, North Germans, Scandinavians, Italian and many Chinese. The Chinese were sent special invitations by the Otago Chamber of Commerce in 1866. By 1873 they made up 40 percent of the diggers in Otago and 25 percent of the diggers in Westland.[30] From 1900 there was also significant Dutch, Dalmatian,[31] Italian, and German immigration together with indirect European immigration through Australia, North America, South America and South Africa.[32] Following the Great Depression policies were relaxed and migrant diversity increased. In 2008–09, a target of 45,000 migrants was set by the New Zealand Immigration Service (plus a 5,000 tolerance).[33]

Just over 25 percent of New Zealand's population at the 2013 Census was born overseas, up from 23 percent in 2006 and 20 percent in 2001. Over half (51.6 percent) of New Zealand's overseas-born population lives in the Auckland Region, including 72 percent of the country's Pacific Island-born population, 64 percent of its Asian-born population, and 56 percent of its Middle Eastern and African- born population.[34] In the late 2000s, Asia overtook the British Isles as the largest source of overseas migrants; today around 32 percent of overseas-born New Zealand residents were born in Asia (mainly China, India, the Philippines and South Korea) compared to 26 percent born in the UK and Ireland.[35] The number of fee-paying international students increased sharply in the late 1990s, with more than 20,000 studying in public tertiary institutions in 2002.[36]

To be eligible for entry under the skilled migrant plan applicants are assessed by an approved doctor for good health, provide a police certificate to prove good character and speak sufficient English. Migrants working in some occupations (mainly health) must be registered with the appropriate profession body before they can work within that area.[37] Skilled migrants are assessed by Immigration New Zealand and applicants that they believe will contribute are issued with a residential visa, while those with potential are issued with a work to resident visa.[38] Under the work to residency process applicants are given a temporary work permit for two years and are then eligible to apply for residency.[39] Applicants with a job offer from an accredited New Zealand employer, cultural or sporting talent, looking for work where there has been a long-term skill shortage or to establish a business can apply for work to residency.[39][40]

While most New Zealanders live in New Zealand, there is also a significant diaspora abroad, estimated as of 2001 at over 460,000 or 14 percent of the international total of New Zealand-born. Of these, 360,000, over three-quarters of the New Zealand-born population residing outside of New Zealand, live in Australia. Other communities of New Zealanders abroad are concentrated in other English-speaking countries, specifically the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, with smaller numbers located elsewhere.[41] Nearly one quarter of New Zealand's highly skilled workers live overseas, mostly in Australia and Britain, more than any other developed nation.[42] However many educated professionals from Europe and lesser developed countries have recently migrated to New Zealand.[43][44] A common pathway for New Zealanders to move to the UK is through a job offer via the Tier 2 (General) visa, which grants a 3-year initial stay in the country and can later be extended with three more years. After 5 years the person can apply for permanent residency. Another popular option is the UK Working Holiday visa, also known as "Youth Mobility Scheme" (YMS), which grants New Zealanders 2-year rights to live and work in the UK. [45]


Ethnic groups as per the 2013 census.[46]
  Mixed European-Māori
  Mixed (excluding European-Māori)

New Zealand is a multiethnic society, and home to people of many different national origins. Originally composed solely of the Māori who arrived in the thirteenth century, the ethnic makeup of the population later became dominated by New Zealanders of European descent.[47] In the nineteenth century, European settlers brought diseases for which the Māori population had no immunity. By the 1890s, the Māori population was approximately 40 percent of its size pre-contact.[47] Most New Zealanders are of British and Irish ancestry, with smaller percentages of other European ancestries such as French, Dutch, Scandinavian and German. In the 2006 census, 67.6 percent identified ethnically as European and 14.6 percent as Māori.[48] Other major ethnic groups include Asian (9.2 percent) and Pacific peoples (6.9 percent), while 11.1 percent identified themselves simply as a "New Zealander" (or similar) and 1 percent identified with other ethnicities.[49][n 1] This contrasts with 1961, when the census reported that the population of New Zealand was 92 percent European and 7 percent Māori, with Asian and Pacific minorities sharing the remaining 1 percent.[51]

During the 2013 census in New Zealand, it was estimated that 14.90% of the population of New Zealand were Maori, 11.80% of the population were Asians (deriving from various nations in Asia), 7.40% were of Pacific Islander origin (including from the Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau, all of which are dependent states of New Zealand in the Pacific), and 1.20% were individuals of Middle-Eastern, Latin American, and African descent.

The largest Māori iwi is Ngapuhi with 122,211 people (or 18.97 per cent) of the Māori population. The next largest iwi are Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu/ Kāi Tahu, Te Arawa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato and Tūhoe. A total of 102,366 people (or 15.90 per cent) of Māori descent did not know their iwi.[52] A group of Māori migrated to the Chatham Islands and developed their distinct Moriori culture.[53][54] The Moriori population was decimated, first, by disease brought by European sealers and whalers and, second, by Taranaki Māori, with only 101 surviving in 1862 and the last known full-blooded Moriori dying in 1933.[55] People identifying as having Moriori descents have increased in number in recent years, from 105 in 1991 to 945 in 2006.[56]

Auckland is the most ethnically diverse region in New Zealand with 56.5 percent identifying as Europeans, 18.9 percent as Asian, 11.1 percent as Māori and 14.4 percent as other Pacific Islanders.[57] Recent increases in interracial marriages has resulted in the New Zealand population of Māori, Asian and Pacific Islander descent growing at a higher rate than those of European descent.[58] In 2006 10.4 percent of people, identified with more than one ethnic group in 2006, compared with 9.0 percent in 2001.[57] The ethnic diversity of New Zealand is projected to increase. Europeans (including "New Zealanders") will remain the largest group, although it is predicted to fall to 70 percent in 2026. The Asian, Pacific and Māori groups are the fastest growing and will increase to 3.4 percent, 10 percent and 16 percent respectively.[59] The ethnicity of the population aged under 18 years at 30 June 2006 was 72 percent European, 24 percent Māori, 12 percent Pacific and 10 percent Asian. The population aged 65 years or older consisted of 91 percent European, 5 percent Māori, 4 percent Asian and 2 percent Pacific.[59]

The maps below (taken from 2013 Census data)show the percentages of people in each census area unit identifying themselves as European, Māori, Asian, or Pacific Islander (as defined by Statistics New Zealand). As people could identify themselves with multiple groups, percentages are not cumulative.


English is the predominant language in New Zealand, spoken by 98 percent of the population.[60] New Zealand English is mostly non-rhotic with an exception being the Southern Burr found principally in Southland and parts of Otago.[61] It is similar to Australian English and many speakers from the Northern Hemisphere are unable to tell the accents apart.[62] In New Zealand English the short i (as in kit) has become centralised, leading to the phrase fish and chips sounding like "fush and chups" to the Australian ear.[63] The words rarely and really, reel and real, doll and dole, pull and pool, witch and which, and full and fill can sometimes be pronounced as homophones.[64][65][61] Some New Zealanders pronounce the past participles grown, thrown and mown using two syllables, whereas groan, throne and moan are pronounced as one syllable.[66] New Zealanders often reply to a question or emphasise a point by adding a rising intonation at the end of the sentence.[67]

Initially, the Māori language was permitted in native schools to facilitate English instruction, but as time went on official attitudes hardened against any use of the language. Māori were discouraged from speaking their own language in schools and work places and it existed as a community language only in a few remote areas.[68] It has recently undergone a process of revitalisation,[69][70] being declared an official language in 1987,[71] and is spoken by 4.1 percent of the population.[60] There are now Māori language immersion schools and two Māori Television channels, the only nationwide television channels to have the majority of their prime-time content delivered in Māori.[72] Many places have officially been given dual Māori and English names in recent years.

Samoan is the most widely spoken non-official language (2.3 percent),[n 2] followed by French, Hindi, Yue and Northern Chinese.[60][73][n 3] New Zealand Sign Language is used by approximately 28,000 people and was made New Zealand's third official language in 2006.[74][75]


Education follows the three-tier model, which includes primary schools, followed by secondary schools (high schools) and tertiary education at universities or polytechnics. The Programme for International Student Assessment ranked New Zealand's education as the seventh highest in 2009.[76] The Education Index, published with the UN's 2008 Human Development Index and based on data from 2006, listed New Zealand at 0.993, tied for first with Denmark, Finland and Australia.[77]

Primary and secondary schooling is compulsory for children aged 6 to 16[78] with most children starting at 5. Early leaving exemptions may be granted to 15-year-old students that have been experiencing some ongoing difficulties at school or are unlikely to benefit from continued attendance.[79] Parents and caregivers can home school their children if they obtain approval from the Ministry of Education and prove that their child will be taught "as regularly and as well as in a registered school".[80] There are 13 school years and attending state (public) schools is nominally free from a person's fifth birthday until the end of the calendar year following their 19th birthday.[80][81]

The academic year in New Zealand varies between institutions, but generally runs from late January until mid-December for primary and secondary schools and polytechnics, and from late February until mid-November for universities. New Zealand has an adult literacy rate of 99 percent,[82] and over half of the population aged 15 to 29 hold a tertiary qualification.[78][n 4] In the adult population 14.2 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher, 30.4 percent have some form of secondary qualification as their highest qualification and 22.4 percent have no formal qualification.[83]


The settlement of English in the North Island and northern South Island and Scottish in the Deep South is reflected in the dominance of Anglicanism and Presbyterianism in the respective regions.

Christianity is the predominant religion in New Zealand at just under half of the population at the 2013 New Zealand Census, although regular church attendance is probably closer to 15 percent.[84] In the 2006 Census, 55.6 percent of the population identified themselves as Christians, while another 34.7 percent indicated that they had no religion (up from 29.6 percent in 2001) and around 4 percent affiliated with other religions.[85][n 5] Immigrants make up 80 percent of most of the non-Christian religions,[86] with the traditional Māori religion, Judaism (24 percent immigrant) and Bahá'í (20 percent immigrant) being the exceptions.[87]

The traditional religion of the indigenous Māori population was animistic, but with the arrival of missionaries from the early nineteenth century most of the Māori population converting to Christianity.[88] In 2006, 2,412 Māori still identify themselves as adhering to traditional Māori beliefs.[89] The main Christian denominations are Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Presbyterianism and Methodism. There are also significant numbers of Christians who identify themselves with Pentecostal, Baptist, and Latter-day Saint churches and the New Zealand-based Ratana church has adherents among Māori. According to census figures, other significant minority religions include Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.[73][90] New Zealand has no state religion and freedom of religion has been protected since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.[91]


New Zealand's early economy was based on sealing, whaling, flax, gold, kauri gum, and native timber.[92] During the 1880s agricultural products became the highest export earner and farming was a major occupation within New Zealand.[93] Farming is still a major employer, with 75 000 people indicating farming as their occupation during the 2006 census,[94] although dairy farming has recently taken over from sheep as the largest sector.[93] The largest occupation recorded during the census was sales assistant with 93,840 people.[94] Most people are on wages or salaries (59.9 percent), with the other sources of income being interest and investments (24.1 percent) and self-employment (16.6 percent).[95]

In 1982 New Zealand had the lowest per-capita income of all the developed nations surveyed by the World Bank.[96] In 2010 the estimated gross domestic product (GDP) at purchasing power parity (PPP) per capita was roughly US$28,250, between the thirty-first and fifty-first highest for all countries.[n 6] The median personal income in 2006 was $24,400. This was up from $15,600 in 1996, with the largest increases in the $50,000 to $70,000 bracket.[100] The median income for men was $31,500, $12,400 more than women.[101] The highest median personal income were for people identifying with the European or "other" ethnic group, while the lowest was from the Asian ethnic group. The median income for people identifying as Māori was $20,900.[102]

Unemployment peaked above 10 percent in 1991 and 1992,[103] before falling to a record low of 3.4 percent in 2007 (ranking fifth from twenty-seven comparable OECD nations).[104] Unemployment rose back to 7 percent in late 2009[105] and was 6.8 percent during the June 2010 quarter.[106] The 2006 census reported that while the proportion of people with no source of income was the same as 2001, the number of people receiving the unemployment benefit dropped 48 percent.[95] Most New Zealanders do some form of voluntary work, more women volunteer (92 percent) than males (86 percent).[107] Home ownership has declined since 1991, from 73.8 percent to 66.9 percent in 2006.[108]

See also


  1. When completing the census people could select more than one ethnic group (for instance, 53 percent of Māori identified solely as Māori, while the remainder also identified with one or more other ethnicities).[50]
  2. Of the 85,428 people that replied they spoke Samoan in the 2006 Census, 57,828 lived in the Auckland region.[73]
  3. Languages listed here are those spoken by over 40,000 New Zealanders.
  4. Tertiary education in New Zealand is used to describe all aspects of post-school education and training. Its ranges from informal non-assessed community courses in schools through to undergraduate degrees and advanced, research-based postgraduate degrees.
  5. Another 6 percent objected to stating their religion. Statistics NZ do not report a total percentage for "Other" religions. Depending on how many people claimed both Christian and other religions, this could range from 3 to 5 percent. These percentages are based on the usually resident population, excluding another 7 percent of people who did not provide usable information.
  6. PPP GDP estimates from different organisations vary. The International Monetary Fund's estimate is US$27,420, ranked 32.[97] The CIA World Factbook estimate is $28,000, ranked 51.[98] The World Bank's estimate is US$29,352, ranked 31.[99]


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