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The ‘browning’ of New Zealand

This unfortunate myth comes in a number of forms. It’s usually associated with misinformation about the diversification of New Zealand's multicultural society. ‘European’ and ‘New Zealand European’ have long been the most common ethnicities given on census night. However, due to differences in fertility and the effects of net international migration, other ethnic groups (particularly the key minority groups – Māori, Pacific, and Asian peoples) have been growing considerably in recent decades.

One version of this myth claimed that 41 percent of New Zealand's population will be Māori, Pacific, or Asian in 2021. Does this add up?

Where did the 41 percent come from?

When we first investigated this myth, our population projections suggested that in 2021 Māori will comprise 17 percent of the population, 9 percent will identify with a Pacific ethnicity and 15 percent with an Asian ethnicity. That's where the 41 percent comes from: 17 + 9 + 15 = 41.

But what about the European ethnic group? The same population projections suggested that 70 percent of the population will identify with a European ethnicity in 2021, making European the largest ethnic group.

Wait a minute! 70 + 41 = 111 (and that’s not even including the ‘other’ ethnic group). Shouldn't the ethnic groups add up to 100 percent? No, because people can and do identify with more than one ethnic group.

It is also not true to say that 41 percent of the population are Pacific, Asian, or Māori, because of the ‘overlaps’ between ethnic groups. For example, a significant part of the Pacific population is also part of the Māori population. Almost half of the Māori population also affiliate with other ethnic groups. For this reason, it is incorrect to add any of the ethnic groups together.

Conclusion

This myth is busted.

It is important to recognise that ethnic groups are not discrete populations; they often share individuals. Therefore, the sum of the ethnic group populations exceeds the total population. Never be tempted to add ethnic groups together.

The number of people identifying with multiple ethnicities is increasing, and people's reported ethnicities may change over time. In the 2001 Census, 9 percent of New Zealand's population identified with more than one ethnic group. This had increased to 10.4 percent by 2006. In the 2006 Census, 19.7 percent of people aged under 15 years identified with more than one ethnicity.

Ethnicity is self-defined and relates to socio-cultural identity. It is completely incorrect to associate ethnic data with such concepts as skin colour (as this myth implies).

For your information

National population projections – information releases 
Summary of the projected population of New Zealand, based on different combinations of fertility, mortality, and migration assumptions.

National ethnic population projections – information releases 
Summary of the projected Māori, Pacific, Asian, and European ethnic populations of New Zealand, based on different combinations of fertility, mortality, migration, and inter-ethnic mobility assumptions.

Quickstats about culture and identity 
Census data about how people identify themselves in terms of their ethnic group(s), where people were born, what languages they speak, and their religious affiliations.

Ethnicity papers
References for all users collecting and outputting ethnicity data.

Published 22 June 2012, based on information previously published on 26 October 2006.

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