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2023 census: Queenstown rises, Dunedin stagnates

By RNZ’s Kate Newton

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

The census, conducted in early 2023, put New Zealand’s official population at 4,999,923, just shy of 5 million.

Almost one 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 who left New Zealand during the census, those who did not complete the census and those who were born or moved to New Zealand since then.

Overall, New Zealand’s population has increased by approximately 295,000 people since 2018.

In the south, Queenstown-Lakes has grown by 26%, followed by Central Otago with 11.6%.

This contrasts with Dunedin’s 2.9% growth, which was higher than Clutha district (2.3%) but lower than Invercargill (3.5%), Gore (3.6%) and Southland (6 .6%).

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

Those who identify as European or Pākehā represent 67.8 per cent, Māori 17.8 per cent, Pasifika 8.9 per cent, people of Asian ethnicity 17.3 per cent and those of other origins , including the Middle East, Latin America and Africa, account for 3 percent.

The numbers do not add up to 100 percent, as some people selected more than one ethnicity.

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

The population continues to gradually age: the average age is now 38.1 years, compared to 37.4 in 2018.

Stats NZ senior analyst Rosemary Goodyear said after “unusually high growth” between the 2013 and 2018 censuses, the growth rate had almost halved, from 10.8 per cent to 6.3 percent.

“Migration fell off a cliff with Covid… but we’ve also had a lower fertility rate.”

The places that grow the fastest

All regions of New Zealand grew, but some surprising places are outperforming the rest of the population.

One in three Kiwis still call themselves Aucklanders, but the country’s largest city is among the slowest growing regions, with a population increase of 5.4 per cent.

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 a population increase of 10.3 per cent.

The fastest growing council areas include Queenstown-Lakes and Selwyn, which Goodyear said had 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 beginning to show through where people chose to live, he said.

“People are going to places that are on the outskirts of cities or that have scenic values.”

The 2023 census included questions on gender diversity for the first time, which will help quantify New Zealand’s rainbow community.

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

More Census data, including people’s transportation habits, household income and size, and access to technology, will gradually be released throughout this year and into 2025.

The previous 2018 census was criticized after it focused heavily on getting people to complete the census online, resulting in lower-than-usual completion rates and undercounts of vulnerable populations, including Māori.

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

For the last census, Stats NZ increased the time period during which people could complete their census forms and held 1,400 “assisted completion” events.

The agency says approximately 99 percent of New Zealand’s total population has been captured in this census, and 97 percent of Māori.

The Māori ancestry data released today was simultaneously published on iwi’s Māori data platform, Te Whata.

The full data released today can be viewed on the Stats NZ census website.

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