New Census data shows impact of Covid on NZ

File image: ODT
File image: ODT
By Kate Newton of RNZ

Fewer babies and migration that "fell off a cliff" during Covid-19 have contributed to slower population growth in New Zealand, the first Census results released today reveal.

The Census, conducted in early 2023, placed New Zealand's official population just shy of 5 million, at 4,999,923.

Nearly a million people (one in five) are of Māori descent.

The total number is slightly lower than estimates of 5.34 million, because it does not include people out of New Zealand during the Census, those who did not complete the Census, and those who have been born or moved to New Zealand since.

Overall, New Zealand's population has grown by about 295,000 since 2018.

New Zealanders as a whole are now more diverse than ever.

Those who identify as European or Pākehā make up 59.1 percent, Māori 15.5 percent, Pasifika 7.7 percent, people of Asian ethnicities 15.1 percent, and those from other backgrounds, including Middle Eastern, Latin American and African, make up 2.6 percent.

The difference between the proportion of Māori and those of Māori whakapapa is because not all people with Māori descent identified Māori as their primary ethnic background.

The population is continuing to gradually age: the median age is now 38.1, up from 37.4 in 2018.

Half of us are 38 or older now. Each hexagon represents 1% of the country's population.
Half of us are 38 or older now. Each hexagon represents 1% of the country's population.
Stats NZ principal analyst Rosemary Goodyear said after "unusually high growth" between the 2013 and 2018 Censuses, the growth rate had nearly halved, from 10.8 percent to 6.3 percent..

"Migration fell off a cliff with Covid … but we've also had a lower fertility rate."

The places growing the fastest 

All regions in New Zealand grew, but some surprising locations are outpacing the rest of the population.

One in three Kiwis still call themselves Aucklanders, but the country's biggest city is among the slowest-growing regions, with the population increasing by 5.4 percent.

Instead, some of the regions surrounding Auckland were among the fastest growing locations, including Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Northland.

Tasman - bordering Nelson - had the fastest growth of all, with its population increasing by 10.3 percent.

The fastest growing council areas include Queenstown-Lakes and Selwyn, which Goodyear said had both experienced "phenomenal growth".

The Covid era between Censuses had been "an extraordinary period" and the impact it had had on New Zealand's population was starting to show through where people were choosing to live, she said.

"People are going towards places that are on the outskirts of cities or have scenic values."

Census 2023 included questions about gender diversity for the first time, which will help to quantify New Zealand's rainbow community.

However, the results of those questions will not be released until October this year.

Further data from the Census, including people's transport habits, household income and size, and access to technology, will be gradually released over this year and 2025.

The previous Census in 2018 came under fire after it heavily focused on getting people to complete the Census online, resulting in lower than usual completion rates and undercounts of vulnerable populations, including Māori.

Iwi counts were of such poor quality that they were withheld.

For the latest Census, Stats NZ increased the length of time during which people were able to complete their Census forms, and held 1400 'assisted completion' events.

The agency says an estimated 99 percent of New Zealand's total population has been captured in this Census, and 97 percent of Māori.

Māori descent data released today has been published simultaneously on iwi Māori data platform Te Whata.

The full data released today can be viewed on Stats NZ's Census website.