94-year-old a symbol of trends in population

By Yvonne Tahana, APNZ

Martha Te Whata keeps husband Sol young at heart, he says.  Photo / Dean Purcell
Martha Te Whata keeps husband Sol young at heart, he says. Photo / Dean Purcell

Sol Te Whata, 95 this month, reckons wives keep you young at heart.

He should know - the Moerewa great-great-great-grandfather has had three and is one of a growing number of Maori living longer lives.

There are 5000 Maori over 80, according to Statistics New Zealand figures released yesterday. That's twice as many as a decade ago, when there were only 2400.

It is lower than the general population, where about 159,600 people are aged over 80. But population statistics project manager Jo-Anne Skinner says the change over a decade is marked.

And the proportion of Maori men living longer has also been growing faster in the past decade.

Mr Te Whata, who celebrates his 95th birthday on November 30, said his wife, Martha, 70, who he married in 2004, was a special part of his happiness.

"She's been good to me."

He had smoked in his younger years after becoming hooked during World War II but his first father-in-law gave him good life advice.

"He said, 'E hoa, you don't stop smoking, you don't get a wife."'

The Ngai Tu kaumatua and devout Mormon credits his relationship with his God for his longevity. "I think the Heavenly Father has looked after me."

He hopes to make it to 100 with Mrs Te Whata at his side.

She, meanwhile, said friendship and whanau were the keys to a good life. "Just be happy, keep well and look after yourself."

About one in seven Kiwis are Maori, with 682,200 people in the country identifying as Maori, out of the total population of 4,433,000.

The median age for Maori crept up slightly from 22.1 a decade ago to 23.2 - the median for the whole of the country was 37, up from 34.8.

That older age structure is being driven by ageing baby boomers whose numbers are at unprecedented levels, adding to the financial pressure on the rest of the population.

That age group makes up 14 per cent of the population and continues to rise, surpassing all other groups.

In the past decade the baby boomers have steadily risen from about 12 per cent to the present figure. While the number of those aged 65 and over has grown by 43,100 in the past two years, fertility and mortality rates have fallen. The result is an increasingly ageing population, which has far-reaching implications.

"You've got the situation with superannuation, and people then moving into an area where they're not actively generating income for themselves," said Ms Skinner.

"The rest of the population has to effectively support that group through taxes and the like."

She said as the population aged the health sector would also be affected, creating the need for a changed focus on services including residential care.

Baby boomers are those born during the post-World War II baby boom between 1946 and 1964.

As the boomers reached retirement, the effects of an increasingly ageing population were "starting to hit home now", she said.

Numbers of those aged 0-14 have fallen by 3400 in the past two years, and the 15-39 group is down by 1500.

By 2036 the population is expected to reach 5.4 million, according to Statistics NZ projections.

- NZ Herald

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