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National Population Estimates: December 2011 quarter
Embargoed until 10:45am  –  15 February 2012

This information release contains provisional estimates of the resident population of New Zealand at 31 December 2011. National population estimates give the best available measure of the size and age-sex structure of the population usually living in New Zealand.

Population growth slows to 0.7 percent

In the December 2011 year, the estimated resident population grew by 29,600 (0.7 percent), to reach 4,422,700. This compares with an increase of 45,900 (1.1 percent) in the previous December year. The growth during the December 2011 year was due to a natural increase (excess of births over deaths) of 31,400, offset by a net international migration loss of 1,900. Both natural increase and net international migration have fallen, by 4,000 and 12,300, respectively, compared to the previous December year.

In the December 2011 year, New Zealand experienced the lowest population growth for 11 years, caused by both negative net migration and a fall in natural increase. During the December 2000 year the population growth was 0.6 percent, caused by a natural increase of 30,500 and a net migration loss of 11,300. Slow population growth also occurred during the December 1998 and 1999 years, 0.7 and 0.6 percent, respectively.

Annual population change 1997–2011  Median age by sex 1997–2011  

Median age for females reaches 38.0 years

New Zealand has an ageing population because of a shift to sustained low fertility and low mortality rates. Latest national population projections (series 5) indicate that the median age of the New Zealand population will be 43.5 years in 2061. At 31 December 2011, the median age of New Zealand’s population was 36.9 years, compared with 34.8 years a decade earlier and 31.5 years two decades earlier.

Median age for females has increased more than for males over the last decade. The median age is now 38.0 years and 35.6 years for females and males, respectively. Female median age has increased by 2.5 years over the last decade, while for males it has increased by 1.7 years. The lower median age for males largely reflects their lower life expectancy of 78.8 years, compared with 82.7 years for females.

One in seven New Zealanders is aged 65 years and over

The age composition of New Zealand’s population has changed over the last decade. At 31 December 2011:

  • Children (aged 0–14 years) accounted for 20 percent (893,000) of the New Zealand population, down from 22 percent a decade earlier.
  • The younger working-age population (aged 15–39 years) remained the largest population group at 1,500,800, accounting for 34 percent of the total population, down from 36 percent a decade earlier. 
  • The older working-age population (aged 40–64 years) remained a large proportion of the population, increasing from 30 percent to 32 percent during the decade, to reach 1,429,700.
  • The population aged 65 years and over (aged 65+) accounted for 14 percent (599,100) of New Zealand’s population, up from 12 percent a decade earlier. That equates to one out of every seven New Zealanders being 65+, up from one in eight a decade earlier.
Population by broad age group, 1991–2011 Proportion of the aged 80+ population by sex, 1991–2011 

Ageing of the working-age population

Over the past two decades, the proportion of total working-age population (aged 15–64) has remained stable, comprising around two-thirds of the total estimated resident population. However the age structure of the working-age population has changed. At December 1991 around six out of every 10 people aged 15–64 years were in the younger working-age population, while the other four belonged to the older working age population. Twenty years later the population of the younger and older working-age groups has converged, such that they comprise equal proportions of the total working age population. This is due to gradual growth in the older working-age group, while growth in the younger working-age group has plateaued.

More males aged 80 years and over

During the 20-year period ending December 2011, New Zealand’s population aged 80 years and over (80+) has almost doubled, from 80,200 to 157,200. Among the 80+ population, females significantly outnumber males, although the proportion of males in the 80+ population is increasing. In December 1991 among the 80+ population, there were two females to every male. Twenty years later, there are 1.5 females to every male. This is due to male longevity increasing faster than female longevity (Life expectancy).

For more detailed data see the Excel tables in the 'Downloads' box.

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