More than a quarter of young teenagers want to leave New Zealand and live overseas, according to a survey.
The Civic and Citizenship Education Study, which questioned 4000 Year 9 students about their views on New Zealand, democracy and freedom, found 27 per cent wanted to live permanently in another country.
Despite this, the vast majority of students - questioned in 2008 - were proud of their homeland and flag.
The results were released by the Ministry of Education yesterday, two days after Labour took a shot at National over the number of Kiwis fleeing the country.
Secondary Principals' Association president Patrick Walsh said he was surprised at the high proportion of Year 9 students - aged about 13 - wanting to leave permanently.
He suspected some had a "sense of adventure and wanted to go overseas to explore that" but feared many were swayed by negative reports of the state of our economy.
"I think [a] lot of our teenagers... are becoming pessimistic themselves and believe there are greater opportunities for them overseas.
"I don't think that's the reality but ... if people, including politicians, teachers and parents, continue to talk negatively about their country, that message is caught by young people."
Latest statistics show 84,028 people permanently left New Zealand in the first nine months of this year, up from 68,498 at the same time last year and 70,166 in 2009.
A spokesman for Prime Minister John Key said the findings meant teens were keen to head off on their OE.
"A big part of young New Zealanders' lives is doing the traditional OE, and that's great, because going overseas means people can learn new skills and have new experiences.
"It's something the Prime Minister did ... We want those New Zealanders to bring their skills home, too."
Labour leader Phil Goff said it was "a real tragedy our young people feel like they don't have a future here".
"More than 100,000 Kiwis have fled to Australia under John Key's watch. We're losing our best and brightest."
Young people needed access to great education, the ability to up-skill and find jobs that paid well, Mr Goff said.
"It's not good enough to have a low-wage economy where Kiwis are paid up to 40 per cent less than workers across the Tasman."By Elizabeth Binning Email Elizabeth