Welcome to the new New Zealand – part 2

Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley
Welcome to the new New Zealand – part 2

Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley says there hasn’t been a strategic government population policy since the 1970s and, since that time, New Zealand has undergone dramatic demographic change with an ageing population, falling birth rates and rapidly increasing immigration.

As part of a series of forums on the implications of New Zealand’s latest population trends hosted by Massey University and Westpac, Professor Spoonley wrote about the new New Zealand about to emerge. Here is part 2 of his findings courtesy of Massey University and the New Zealand Herald.


Where have all the babies gone?

The birth rate needed to replace a population is 2.1 births per woman. New Zealand currently hovers around this magic number but in the last year, immigration has contributed more to New Zealand’s population growth than fertility.

An ageing population is one side of the equation; the other is declining fertility levels. Both lead to a population imbalance and a narrowing of the dependency ratio. This is the number of dependents (children, those in education and superannuitants) versus the tax-paying, working population.

At the moment, for every 100 people working, there are 52 dependents, but that is dropping significantly. In a little more than a decade, the ratio will be 100:64 with many regions seeing a ratio of 80 dependents for every 100 workers. Again, this is new territory.

Another aspect is that the fertility rate is different for different groups in New Zealand. Maori and Pasifika women tend to have more births at a younger age and spaced closer together than European/Pakeha.  Asians are somewhere between the two.

And the impacts vary quite significantly by regions. As schools continue to close in some parts of the country, the Government announced a few months ago that it needed to plan for an additional 107,000 more school places in Auckland over the next three decades.

The effect of these very different fertility rates can be seen in the median ages for ethnic groups – 41 for Europeans and 30.6 for Asians, compared to 24 for Maori and 22 for Pasifika in 2013. At the moment the ageing of New Zealand is dominated by Pakeha while, increasingly, the younger cohorts include a greater percentage of Maori and Pasifika. The ethnic diversity of our school age population is an indicator of the future ethnic composition of the population. 

SEE ALSO: Welcome to the new New Zealand


The greying of Aotearoa

The number of New Zealanders aged over 65 doubled between 1980 and 2013, and it will double again to about 1.1 million by 2031.

The most significant factor is the arrival of the baby boomers (who were born between 1946 and 1965), with about 50,000 reaching 65 each year. But this demographic fact is further underlined by growing longevity. A child born in 2014 has an average life expectancy of 94 if they are female and 91 if they are male.

There are significant regional differences. Some areas – including Thames-Coromandel, Kapiti Coast, Horowhenua and Timaru – are already experiencing population decline as deaths outnumber births. Many more regions and towns will join them in the next decade.

What does this mean for how we consider ageing and the supply of services? The 2013 census confirmed the fact that the “retirement age” of 65 is somewhat arbitrary. New Zealanders are healthier and more active than ever before, with 21% of the over-65 year olds continuing to work, often well into their seventies.

Those working over the age of 80 are expected to triple as people need to continue in paid work for financial reasons, but also because they are a skilled, experienced part of the workforce that wants to continue working.

The equally important question is how we are going to provide for an ageing population? The baby boom after WWII required a substantial investment in education, but then resulted in a “demographic dividend” as the baby boomers became economically active.

As they age, this demographic bulge becomes a challenge, especially in relation to the provision of appropriate health services and retirement income. It might also constrain growth as investment gets diverted to care for these cohorts or the dependency ratio declines.


A snapshot of the new New Zealand

The Nga Tangata Oho Mairangi study, led by teams from Massey University and University of Waikato, aimed to detail how New Zealand’s demographic changes are being experienced at a regional level.

The research teams have just completed work in five regions – Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury, West Coast and Southland – where they spoke to households about how New Zealand was changing, surveyed employers and held focus groups with Year 13 students in local schools. Here are the key insights.


To be concluded

In the third and final part in Distinguished Professor Spoonley’s series on the new New Zealand, he looks at attitudes to diversity, immigration and employment, and the next generation.

SEE ALSO: Welcome to the new New Zealand


Courtesy of Massey University and the New Zealand Herald.


Paul Spoonley2

Distinguished Professor Spoonley is one of New Zealand's leading academics and a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

He has led numerous externally funded research programmes, written or edited 25 books, and is a regular commentator in the news media.

He was awarded the Royal Society of New Zealand Science and Technology medal in 2009 in recognition of his academic scholarship, leadership and public contribution to cultural understanding and in 2011, his contribution to Sociology was acknowledged with the Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand's scholarship for exceptional service to New Zealand sociology.

In 2013, he was given the title of Distinguished Professor, Massey University's highest academic title.

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