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National Population Estimates: March 2011 quarter
Embargoed until 10:45am  –  13 May 2011


This release contains estimates of the resident population of New Zealand at 31 March 2011. Tables are included at the end of this release with estimated resident population and population change, estimated resident population by broad age group and sex, and by five-year age group and sex. Estimates by single-year of age are available from Infoshare on the Statistics New Zealand website (demography age estimates in the 'Population' category).

Population estimates give the best available measure of the size and age-sex structure of the population usually living in an area. Estimates are based on the latest census data and on births, deaths, and migration since the census. National population estimates are published quarterly and subnational population estimates are published annually.

The estimates in this release are provisional. They incorporate provisional estimates of the number of births and deaths that occurred in the March 2011 quarter. Final estimates will be released in August 2011. Due to potential late birth and death registrations following the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011, the final population estimates for the December 2010 quarter will also not be released until August 2011. In addition, population estimates after 30 June 2006 will be revised following results from the next Census of Population and Dwellings.

In this release, a special topic analyses the growing number of people aged 85 and over. Recent releases have included special topics on the growing number of centenariansmean, median, and modal age of the population, 1970–2010, components of population change, 1970–2010, median age of the population aged 65 years and over, and trends in the number of children (aged 0–14 years), 1969–2009.

Estimated resident population

The estimated resident population of New Zealand was 4,403,000 at 31 March 2011, comprising 2,163,400 males and 2,239,600 females. At 31 March 2011, there were 97 males for every 100 females. The estimated resident population for the mean year ended 31 March 2011 was 4,381,100.

 Graph, Estimated resident population, 1997 to 2011.

Annual population change

In the March 2011 year, the estimated resident population grew by 41,200 (0.9 percent), compared with 56,000 (1.3 percent) in the previous March year. The population growth in the March 2011 year was less than the average annual increase of 52,600 (1.3 percent) recorded during the 10-year period to March 2011.

The population growth for the March 2011 year resulted from a natural increase (excess of births over deaths) of 34,700 and a net permanent and long-term (PLT) migration gain of 6,600. The level of net PLT migration has decreased by around 14,400 since the previous March year.

Historically, natural increase has been the dominant component of population growth. Over the last 40 years, natural increase has accounted for around 80 percent of New Zealand's total population growth. During the March 2011 year, natural increase accounted for 84 percent of population growth.

 Graph, Annual population change, 1997 to 2011.

Quarterly population change

During the March 2011 quarter, New Zealand's estimated resident population grew by 9,500 (0.2 percent). This growth resulted from a natural increase of 8,600 and a net PLT migration gain of 900. In the March 2010 quarter population growth was higher than the current quarter, at 14,600 (0.3 percent). This increase was largely due to a net PLT gain of 4,800, while natural increase contributed 9,800. 

Median age

New Zealand has an ageing population because of a shift to sustained low fertility and low mortality rates. This shift is also observed across other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). At 31 March 2011, half of New Zealand's population was over 36.8 years, compared with a median age of 34.6 years a decade earlier. The median age for males is now 35.6 years, while for females it is 37.8 years. The lower median age for males largely reflects their lower life expectancy of 78.8 years, compared with 82.7 years for females (New Zealand abridged life table, 2008–10). Latest national population projections (2009 base–2061 update) indicate that the median age of the New Zealand population will be 43.5 years in 2061 (series 5).

 Graph, Median age by sex, 1997 to 2011.

Trends in the population aged 85 years and over, 1981–2011 

During the 30-year period ended March 2011, New Zealand's population aged 85 years and over (85+) has more than trebled, increasing from 21,300 in March 1981 to 72,500 in March 2011. As a result, the proportion of New Zealand's population aged 85+ has increased. Thirty years ago, 1 out of every 149 New Zealanders was aged 85+. However, at 31 March 2011, the 85+ population accounted for 1 out of every 61 New Zealanders.

Among the 85+ population females significantly outnumber males. In March 1981 the female 85+ population exceeded the male 85+ population by 9,700. In March 2011 this increased to 22,200. Of the 85+ population at 31 March 1981, there were almost three females per male. Due to the increasing proportion of males, in March 2011 there were around two females per male. The increasing proportion of males over this period is due to male longevity increasing more than female longevity (Life expectancy)

 Graph, Estimated population aged 85+ by sex, 1981 to 2011.

Changes in age composition

The age composition of New Zealand's population has changed over the past decade. In the 10 years ended 31 March 2011, the number of children (aged 0–14 years) grew to 895,200, an average annual increase of 1,700 (0.2 percent). For the year ended 31 March 2011, the increase of 1,000 (0.1 percent) in the number of children was less than the average annual increase for the decade. At 31 March 2011, children accounted for 20 percent of the New Zealand population, down from 23 percent at 31 March 2001.

At 31 March 2011, the population aged 15–39 years remained the largest population group, accounting for 34 percent of the total population, down from 36 percent a decade earlier. This age group reached 1,503,200 in March 2011, up by 4,800 (0.3 percent) compared with the March 2010 figure. In the 10 years ended March 2011, the average annual increase for this age group was 11,000 (0.8 percent).

Graph, Average annual population change, by age group and sex, 10 years ended March 2011.

The population aged 40–64 years also remained a large proportion of the population, increasing from 30 percent to 32 percent in the decade ended 31 March 2011. This age group increased by 17,300 (1.2 percent) in the year ended 31 March 2011, to reach 1,421,900. The increase was below the average annual increase of 27,500 (2.2 percent) for the 10 years ended March 2011.

The proportion of the population aged 65–79 years was 9.7 percent at 31 March 2011, up from 9.0 percent in 2001. During the March 2011 year, the population aged 65–79 years increased by 3.1 percent (13,000) to reach 428,000. In the 10 years ended March 2011, this age group grew at an average annual rate of 2.1 percent (8,000).

In the 10 years ended March 2011, there was also an increase in the proportion of the population aged 80 years and over (80+), from 2.9 percent to 3.5 percent. The 80+ population reached 154,800 at 31 March 2011, an average annual increase of 3.3 percent (4,300) over the decade. The size and growth rate of this age group varied significantly by sex. The average annual growth rate for males for the decade was 4.9 percent, compared with 2.5 percent for females. In the year ended 31 March 2011, the male population in the 80+ age group increased by 4.8 percent (2,800) to reach 61,000, while the female population increased by 2.7 percent (2,400) to 93,900.

Population clock

Statistics NZ's online population clock gives a real-time approximation of the estimated resident population of New Zealand. The population clock uses the latest quarterly estimated resident population, and estimates for the expected number of births, deaths, and net migration during the following quarter. The settings for each component (births, deaths, and net migration) are derived by converting the quarterly estimated totals into a 'per minute' figure, making allowance for the number of days per quarter. The population clock can be viewed on the Statistics NZ website:

Different population measures

Users of population statistics need to be aware that there are three main population measures produced by Statistics NZ: the census night population count, the census usually resident population count, and the estimated resident population. The population counts published from the census are not comparable with the estimated resident population. The estimated resident population includes adjustments for net census undercount and for New Zealand residents temporarily overseas on census night. For more information see the 'Technical notes' section of this release.

For technical information contact: 
Esther Hogenhout or Lucy Abrahams
Christchurch 03 964 8700

Next release...

National Population Estimates: June 2011 quarter will be released on 12 August 2011.

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