150,000 left NZ since recession began

Statistics NZ says New Zealand is heading for a population of six million – but its make up is changing as the European population ages, Auckland becomes one of the immigrant-heavy cities in the world and young people leave.

Statistics NZ says New Zealand is heading for a population of six million – but its make up is changing as the European population ages, Auckland becomes one of the immigrant-heavy cities in the world and young people leave.

On TV One's Q+A programme yesterday, Jesicca Mutch interviewed Massey University professor Paul Spoonley on New Zealand's changing demographics. A transcript follows. Watch the full interview here.


New Zealand is growing slowly. Statistics New Zealand have released their first population projection since 2009. With nearly 4.5 million people living here now, the projections show slow growth in coming years – 5 million in the mid-2020s, 6 million around 2060. But it’s the make-up of that population that’s most interesting. By the late 2020s, 1 million New Zealanders – that’s one in five – will be over 65, and there’ll be more of them than there are children under 15. And as our fertility rates decline, so the proportion of immigrants rises. To help explain what all this might mean, here’s Jessica Mutch with Massey University professor Paul Spoonley.

JESSICA – Professor Paul Spoonley, thank you very much for joining us this morning. I want to touch on that 5 million figure – that’s what New Zealand’s population is going to be in 2020. What will New Zealand look like with that kind of population?

PROF PAUL SPOONLEY – Massey University
            Well, we’ll be much older, but we’ll also have a much higher proportion of immigrants, and so the things that stand out are the ageing population and the fact that our growth is going to have to come from overseas.

JESSICA – Are we growing as fast as we should?

PAUL – No, we’re not, but then all countries in the Western world are in decline, and we are what’s called premature ageing. So not only are we getting a lot more older people – that’s in size – but as a proportion of the population they’re growing because, of course, we’re seeing quite a few young people leave the country.

JESSICA – Let’s talk a little bit about that population spread. Why are so many people moving to Auckland?

PAUL – Well, Auckland – there’s an agglomeration effect, so the bigger Auckland becomes, there more attractive it becomes. It becomes more attractive economically, but it also becomes more attractive as a place to live. And so we’re seeing the sort of perimeters of New Zealand, the regions, beginning to flat-line, so they’re not growing, and we’re now beginning to see the first of regions beginning to decline.

JESSICA – How is Auckland growing compared with the rest of the world in terms of a city?

PAUL – Well, just to talk about New Zealand for a minute – natural growth, that’s the births over deaths, is still the most important factor in New Zealand’s growth. But in Auckland, our most important factor is immigration. So we are one of the major destination cities around the world, and you can see that in the make-up of Auckland – the number of people who have been born overseas.

JESSICA – Let’s talk about that immigration mix, particularly in a place like Auckland. 40% of the population is born overseas. What is that immigration growth looking like long term?

PAUL – Well, the first thing is that 40% puts us right at the top. I mean, there aren’t many cities around the world that have 40% of their population born overseas. I mean, Toronto, Vancouver, but really Auckland’s right up the top there. Increasingly, if you look at the figures for the last year, we still attract people out of Britain, but we’re also seeing very large numbers coming out of India, and the growing population is the Filipino population. So we’re what’s called a super-diverse city, so we— immigration’s very important to the city’s growth, but it’s the diversity of that immigration population that’s really important, and it marks Auckland out. I mean, people tend to think of Los Angeles or London. In fact, Auckland’s more diverse than those cities.

JESSICA – How much of a multicultural city are we going to have here in Auckland in 20, 30, 40 years’ time?

PAUL – Well, huge because the people that are ageing tend to be Pakeha. If you look at New Zealand’s population, 30% of those under 15 are either Maori or Pacific Islander, but the growth population by far is the Asian population. They are growing much more rapidly. And my projections are that in 2016, which is when we would have had a census and I assume we will do, a quarter of Auckland’s population will be Asian and a quarter will be Maori and Pasifika.

JESSICA – That...

PAUL – That’s a huge change.

JESSICA – That multicultural diversity – are we dealing with that well?

PAUL – Yes, I think we are. I mean, if you compare us with Australia— I mean, one of the peculiar things is that Australia used to be our model, but post-John Howard, Australia’s tended to take a very hard line on both immigrants and what they call boat people – you know, the camps, the attitudes. And if you look at the public opinion polling, New Zealand is now much more— New Zealanders are much more now in favour of immigrants than Australians. And so we’re beginning to look much more like Canada in terms of the mix but also the attitude. We haven’t had a Cronulla. We haven’t had rioting on our streets because of immigrants or between particular communities.

JESSICA – That UMR Asia-New Zealand research that you talk about shows that we are becoming more accepting of immigrants, except the Maori population. Why is that?

PAUL – Well, I think Maori see immigrants as a threat in several ways. We’ve invested a lot in biculturalism, so what’s local multiculturalism going to look like? Both Canada and Australia adopted official multicultural policies in the 1970s. We don’t have a multicultural policy. We do things to respect and celebrate multiculturalism, but we don’t have a policy. We don’t have a language policy. And I also think there is competition economically between Maori and the new immigrants. The new immigrants are typically skilled, so are they taking from Maori? I think that’s where the concern comes from.

JESSICA – Just finally, let’s touch on this ageing population that you talked about earlier. In 20 years’ time, 1.2 million people will be over the age of 65. What does that mean for New Zealand going forward?

PAUL – Well, firstly, it’s a doubling. So we’re at 600,000, so we’re seeing the over-65 double. I think the second thing which is really concerning is what’s called the dependency ratio, which is the ratio between those who are in the workforce and those who are dependent on the state in some way. And we’re seeing that decline. There’s a big bite out of the younger New Zealand age groups because they’re going. I mean, 150,000 New Zealanders have left this country since the start of the economic recession, and that’s a huge concern. So we need people to stay here, and we need people to be working here to support that dependency ratio.

JESSICA – And we’re going to have to leave it there. We’ve run out of time. Thank you very much for your time this morning, Professor Paul Spoonley.

PAUL – Thank you, Jessica.

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