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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



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Factors Affecting Increase and Decrease

General Survey: Between 1956 and 1961 the population of New Zealand increased by 240,922, or 11·08 per cent. This compared with a rise of 12·10 per cent between 1951 and 1956, and with a rise of 13·93 per cent during the previous intercensal period. When armed forces overseas are included, the percentage increase between 1956 and 1961 becomes 11·09 per cent; that between 1951 and 1956 remains at 12·10 per cent; while the increase between 1945 and 1951 falls to 11·08 per cent.

The following table shows the size of the total population of New Zealand from the census of 1858 to that of 1961. It also shows the increases between censuses, and the average annual percentage increase. There were no censuses of Maoris in 1851, 1861, 1864, 1867, and 1871, and these years have accordingly been omitted from the table.

Increase in Total Population, 1858–1961
Census Population Numerical Increase Percentage Increase Average Annual Percentage Increase
1858 115,462 .. .. ..
1874 344,984 .. .. ..
1878 458,007 113,023 32·76 7·33
1881 534,030 76,023 16·60 5·10
1886 620,451 86,421 16·18 3·05
1891 668,632 48,181 7·77 1·50
1896 743,207 74,575 11·15 2·13
19011 815,853 72,646 9·77 1·89
1906 936,304 120,451 14·76 2·75
1911 1,058,308 122,004 13·03 2·52
19161 1,149,225 90,917 8·59 1·50
1921 1,271,664 122,439 10·65 2·27
1926 1,408,139 136,475 10·73 2·06
1936 1,573,810 165,671 11·77 1·13
19451 1,702,298 128,488 8·16 0·83
19452 1,747,679 173,869 11·05 1·11
19511 1,939,472 237,174 13·93 2·37
19512 1,941,366 193,687 11·08 1·91
19562 2,174,062 234,590 12·10 2·31
19562 2,176,224 234,858 12·10 2·31
19611 2,414,984 240,922 11·08 2·12
19612 2,417,543 241,319 11·09 2·13

1 Excludes members of armed forces absent overseas.

2Includes members of armed forces absent overseas.

Numerically, the increase in population between 1956 and 1961 is the highest intercensal increase recorded in New Zealand. The highest number previously recorded was between 1945 and 1951, but this was swollen by the return of the wartime servicemen from overseas. Of the total increase of 240,922 between the censuses of 1956 and 1961, natural increase (births less deaths) contributed 83·0 per cent. The balance was made up by migration (arrivals less departures).

The steady growth in the population of New Zealand is due to two factors: a relatively high rate of natural increase, especially among the Maori people; and continued immigration, especially from the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Netherlands.

Population sizes and relationships are part of a dynamic, not a static, problem. This reminder may appear unnecessary; but it is surprising how many fallacious statements arise from neglect of it. The dynamics of New Zealand population growth can be illustrated by the construction of a simplified table showing increases on a day by day basis. For this, 1964 birthrates and death rates and population figures have been used, and a migration inflow of 15,000 a year has been assumed.

Births add 172 a day
Deaths deduct 63 a day
Natural increase therefore adds 109 a day
Migration adds a net 41 a day
Population increases 150 a day

The relative importance of births as an influence on population growth should be noted.

On a percentage basis comparison, the population increase is slower in the United States of America than it is in New Zealand, but in the former country the present population is some 70 times as large. To provide for comparison, most population studies are on a percentage, or per 1,000, basis. Here are the above New Zealand components of growth on this basis:

Population Growth Components
Annual Change Per 1,000 of Population
Births + 24
Deaths - 9
Births less deaths (Natural increase) + 15
Migration (net) + 6
Population increase + 21

From the point of view of short-term changes in the size of the population, the annual inflows and outflows from births, deaths, and migration may provide the necessary data for study, but in considering the age structure of the population, the age groupings in which these inflows and outflows occur must also be noted. Again, for any longer-term study of population trends, we must be concerned with the present and future age structure of the population as well as with the inflows and outflows, because the birthrates and death rates to which the population will be subjected are closely related to its age structure.

Changing Age Structure: The following table, which is based on the previous table, gives an impression of the age distribution of the growth components. To give a proper impression of relative size, all figures are quoted per 10,000 of the total population. The age distribution of the population and of births and deaths is based on recent experience. Age distribution of the migration inflow is taken as the average for the period 1938–57.

Typical Age Distribution of Population Growth Components
(All expressed per 10,000 of total population)
Age Group Population Annual Births Annual Deaths Annual Migration
0–14 3,282 + 240 - 7 + 13
15–29 2,197 .. - 2 + 24
30–44 1,814 .. - 4 + 16
45–59 1,510 .. - 11 + 4
60–74 883 .. - 26 + 1
75 + 314 .. - 38 0
Total 10,000 + 240 - 88 +p 58

To complete the picture for each age group, the numbers of people who pass out of an age group each year by reaching the lowest age for the following group must be noted. For convenience these are shown separately below. The figures are, however, directly comparable with those in the previous table.

Typical Annual Movements Between Groups
(Per 10,000 of total population)
Age Group Persons Reaching the Lowest Age in this Group Persons Passing the Highest Age in this Group
0–14 + 240* - 190
15–29 + 190 - 114
30–44 + 114 - 120
45–59 + 120 - 83
60–74 + 83 - 41
75 + + 41 ..


The annual movements shown in this table form by far the largest growth components in all except the oldest age groups, and obviously they are closely related to the number of births in previous years. For example, the number of people reaching the age of 45 during the present year is affected to a degree by past migration and death rates, but it is mainly decided by the number of babies born 45 years ago. Thus, the past rates of growth of the population have an all-important influence on the present age structure. The fact that as much as 33 per cent of the New Zealand population is aged under 15, and 72 per cent under 45, does not of course indicate a high mortality rate. Its main cause is the rapid growth of population in the past.

Apart from changes in crude birthrates and the effects of mortality and migration, those in the age group 15 to 29 were born on average 15 years before those in the age group of the under fifteens. Their parents were part of the population which existed 15 years earlier. This fact, in a population growing as fast as New Zealand's, means that their parents were part of a population only three-quarters as large. Applying this sort of reasoning successively to higher age groups, it is easy to see that even where mortality rates are low and migration inflow quite high, a population which has grown rapidly for many years is going to have a very small proportion of its people in the older age groups and a very large proportion in the younger age groups.

The effects of rapid natural increase on age structure are clearly demonstrated in the pattern of Maori population. The result of the high rate of natural increase in recent years (38·14 per 1,000 in 1961: over twice that of the European population) is that 48 per cent of Maoris are below 15 years of age and almost three-quarters are below 30 years of age.

This effect of fast population growth – the tendency for those in the younger age groups to be relatively numerous – has many sociological effects. The high relative cost and burden of education and the difficulty in maintaining an adequate ratio of teachers to pupils in schools and universities are readily apparent, as is the relatively small burden of making adequate provision for the aged.

Younger Marriages

A population trend affecting the birthrate is that towards marriage at younger ages.

The table shows, from 1920 onwards, the proportions of men and women married at each age group to every 100 marriages.

It will be seen that the proportion of minors among persons marrying has been increasing over a fairly long period. In the latest available year, one bride in every three was under 21 years of age, the proportion for grooms being one in 12.

A comparison of the census tables of marital status for decennial age groups over a 35-year period – 1926 to 1961 – reveals an increased proportion of married persons in all age groups. The figures for the 16 to 24 years age group illustrate the trend towards younger marriages. From this group, in 1926, only 72 out of every 1,000 men and 183 out of every 1,000 women were married; in 1961 the proportions were 144 out of every 1,000 men and 347 out of every 1,000 women. In the 25 to 34 years age group, the proportions married increased from 575 to 756 per 1,000 men, and from 694 to 875 per 1,000 women in the same period. (Incidentally, the greater proportion of married women to married men in these age groups illustrates the tendency for men to marry women younger than themselves.)

The proportion of young marriages provides a barometer of economic conditions. Those married in the 16 to 24 years age group and the 25 to 34 years age group, showed a considerable increase at the 1945 census, and the proportion has risen steadily ever since; but the years between 1926 and 1936 saw a fall, due no doubt to the postponement of marriage by young people during the worst years of the economic depression. The 1956 rate for males in the 16 to 24 years age group was exactly double that of 1936 – 130 per 1,000 compared with 65 per 1,000.

Past and Present Reproduction Rates

It is obvious that changes in economic conditions affect the birthrate, primarily because difficult economic conditions lead people to delay marriage and so cut down the percentage of married women in the child-bearing age groups. It is also obvious that changes in the birthrate will be felt a generation later. For example, the birthrate in present-day New Zealand is adversely affected by the delayed marriages and consequent low birthrate of the 1930s. The girl-babies born in those years are the mothers (actual or potential) of today, and so the low birthrate in the 1930s shows itself today in a low percentage of women in the child-bearing age groups, which are usually considered to be those of from 15 to 44 years of age inclusive. The following table shows the percentages of the female population in the ante-reproductive, reproductive, and post-reproductive age groups at intervals from 1926 to 1961.

The effect of low birthrates in the past on present marriage rates and birthrates is of particular importance as it introduces the possibility of a cycle of low birthrates, low marriage rates, low birthrates, low marriage rates, and so on. This cycle, if it is left to work itself out, would have an approximate 27-year time period corresponding to the time between the birth of a girl and her reaching the maximum age of child bearing. Migration cannot affect these cycles very much, as the proportion of women in the child-bearing ages among migrants differs only by about 3 per cent from the proportion in the whole of the population.

Although it would appear that a cycle of low birthrates and low marriage rates began in the years around 1935, it is also true that we had high birthrates in the years around 1908; thus, if the theory of cycles is to hold without exceptions, the birthrates around 1935 should have been unusually high, whereas, in fact, they were exceptionally low. The reason for the apparent paradox seems to have been the trend towards delayed marriages which has been already noticed. In the 1930s, fewer women were married during those years when fertility was at its peak; and marrying later, they had fewer years of potential child-bearing before them. Similarly, in 1961, the relatively low percentage of women of child-bearing age was partly offset by the higher percentage of those women between 15 and 44 years of age who were actually married and bearing children.


Apart from the depression periods of 1886–90 and 1931–35, the inflow of immigrants into New Zealand has always exceeded the outflow. Immigration booms during the last century have already been mentioned. During this century there were Government-sponsored immigration schemes between 1906 and 1914, and again between 1919 and 1926. In 1947, post-war labour shortages led to a revival of State-assisted immigration, the new policy allowing for the acceptance of certain classes of non-British immigrants. Of the 40,454 assisted immigrants who entered New Zealand between 1 April 1946 and 31 December 1956, 5,594 were from the Netherlands, 91 from Canada, and 113 from other European countries, mainly Austria and Germany.

At the end of 1958, it was decided to restrict assisted immigration by limiting male workers from the United Kingdom to skilled tradesmen, farm workers, and those with the requisite experience for essential industries. At the same time, the recruitment of German, Austrian, Danish, and Swiss migrants was terminated. In 1960 steps were taken to increase the recruitment of skilled workers, and in March 1961 the Government announced a plan to bring up to 5,000 assisted immigrants to New Zealand in that year.

In most years the net migration gain considerably exceeds the number of assisted immigrants, indicating that large numbers of intending residents come to New Zealand unassisted. The following table compares the numbers of assisted immigrants with the net migration figures in three-year groupings over a 15-year period.

Assisted Immigrants and Net Migration Gain
1 April 1949 – 31 March 1964
Three Years Ending 31 March Assisted Immigrants Net Migration Gain
1952 10,409 31,066
1955 18,212 44,503
1958 14,295 34,992
1961 9,458 14,825
1964 12,923 47,455

The net migration inflow has varied considerably during this century – from an inflow of 11 per 1,000 for the period 1901–05 to a net outflow of rather more than one per 1,000 for the period 1931 to 1935. This is the most unpredictable of all the growth components, but fortunately it is also on average the smallest component.

Death Rates and Life Expectancy

Death rates for the New Zealand population have been comparatively stable during the twentieth century, the lowest five-year period being 1931–35, when the death rate was 8·2 per 1,000, and the highest (excluding the war periods) being the five years 1901 to 1905, when it was 9·9 per 1,000.

Until recent years the Maori death rate has been a disquieting feature. In 1941 it was double the European, but since that year it has fallen almost continuously. In 1958 the Maori death rate of 8·67 per 1,000 was not only the lowest on record, but was also slightly below that for Europeans. Infant mortality rates among the Maoris continue to give cause for concern, but the death rate among the race as a whole has, during recent years, continued slightly below that among Europeans. In the year ending 31 December 1964, the Maori death rate was 6·21 per 1,000 of mean population, while the European death rate was 9·00. A deduction of the death rates from the birthrates gives a natural rate of increase of 36·11 per 1,000 for the Maori population as compared with 13·61 per 1,000 for the European population.

There is obviously an intimate connection between the death rate and the average expectation of life. Life tables depicting the pattern of mortality over the age-span of life for the non-Maori component of New Zealand's population have been constructed at various times since 1880. The most recent tables are based on the 1956 population census, together with mortality statistics for 1955–57.

Since 1880 the improvement in non-Maori life expectancy for both sexes has been most striking for the younger ages but has been relatively small for the advanced ages. Progress in medical science, coupled with improved social conditions, has resulted in substantial reductions in mortality from infectious diseases among infants and children. On the other hand, diseases of middle and old age are less amenable to control.

Life expectancy at birth for a Maori male increased by 3·18 years in the interval 1950–52 to 1955–57, with that for females increasing by 2·80 years. This was a substantial increase in a short period, and is evidence that Maori life expectancy is improving at a fast rate.

Sex Proportions

In common with most newly developed countries, early nineteenth century New Zealand had a predominantly masculine population. At the first general census of Europeans, taken in 1851, the numbers of males and females were in the proportion of 4 : 3. Following the discovery of gold in 1857 and 1861, there was an influx of several thousand gold miners to the country, reducing the ratio of females to males from 765 per 1,000 in 1858 to 620 in 1861. The selected immigrants of the seventies helped to restore the balance between the sexes, and the proportion of females to males rose from 704 per 1,000 in 1871 to 817 per 1,000 in 1881. From the late seventies onwards, the growing effects of natural increase produced a more even balance.

The graph at top of page 829 illustrates the sex proportions of the European population from 1851 to 1961, and of the Maori population from 1926 to 1961. The high female proportion of 1945 is due solely to the absence of troops overseas. The figure adjusted to include the armed forces gives a more accurate picture of the sex ratio.

The proportion of females, which has increased steadily from 1906 to 1945 (disregarding the war year 1916, and including troops overseas in the 1945 calculation) has decreased slightly since 1945, partly due to a high proportion of male immigrants and possibly influenced by the absence of females overseas on working holidays. Parity of the sexes will probably be reached in a few decades, unless this high proportion of male immigrants continues to upset the trend.

The Maori population has a higher masculinity than the rest of the population, but the trend is for the proportion of females to increase.

Last updated 22-Apr-09