No baby boom and fewer sheep: Myths busted

By Simon Collins

Population myth-buster: NZ is NOT in the middle of a baby boom. Photo / Thinkstock
Population myth-buster: NZ is NOT in the middle of a baby boom. Photo / Thinkstock

If you thought New Zealand was in the middle of a baby boom, think again.

Perhaps you've heard that almost half of all New Zealanders will soon be non-European. You'd be wrong.

Or perhaps you still believe the one about New Zealand having 20 sheep for every human. Wrong again.

Statistics NZ demographers have analysed 17 common "myths" about the population and found 12 are false.

Only one is completely true - that more women are remaining childless. The other four can be summed up as "maybe", "not quite", "partly true" and "it depends".

Senior demographer Kim Dunstan said the agency drew up the list of "population myth-busters" after seeing all in the media at various times.

"We are on the lookout for ways to promote population as part of our role in terms of promoting the use and understanding of statistics," he said.

The term "mini-baby-boom" has been widely used since the number of births jumped from 54,000 in 2002 to 64,300 in 2008, the highest for 37 years.

But the agency says the average number of children each woman will have in her lifetime rose only marginally, from 1.9 in 2002 to 2.2 in 2008, and has since dropped to 2.04.

"In 1961, the birth rate was around 4.3 births per woman," it says.

"If the 1961 birth rates applied today we would have had around 112,000 births in 2011. In fact we had only 61,400. With the current birth rate only just reaching replacement level (2.1), we cannot justify the claim that New Zealand is having a baby boom."

The myth-busters say the idea that almost half the population will soon be non-European stems from ethnic projections that count people with mixed ethnicity more than once, under multiple ethnicities.

Official projections show the number of Asians will jump from 10 per cent of the population at the 2006 census to 16 per cent by 2026, when they will equal the number of Maori.

The number of Pacific people will grow from 7 per cent to 10 per cent.

Add those three together for 2026 and it totals 42 per cent - giving the almost half "non-European" figure.

But the same projections also show that 70 per cent of the population in 2026 will be European, down from 77 per cent in 2006 but still dominant.

The explanation is that 12 per cent will be of mixed ethnicities.

The latest birth figures suggest that ethnic mixing is increasing - 15,831 (26 per cent) of the 60,860 babies born in the year to March this year had more than one ethnicity.

Only 5249 (31 per cent) of the 17,207 babies with Maori ethnicity were solely Maori, 50 per cent of Pacific babies were solely Pacific, 68 per cent of European babies were solely European; and 72 per cent of Asian babies were solely Asian.

Other babies had every possible ethnic combination, including 105 who belong to all four main ethnic groups.

Statistics NZ says it was true that New Zealand had roughly 20 sheep for every person in New Zealand in 1982 - when the country had 70.3 million sheep and 3.2 million people.

But sheep numbers have plunged to 31.1 million, while humans have increased to 4.4 million.

That means we now have only seven sheep for each one of us.

But the analysts say it may be true that about one million New Zealanders live overseas - if overseas-born children and non-NZ-born NZ citizens are included.

They discovered the idea of a "seven-year itch" in marriages is more like a four-year itch based on the peak divorce rates.

And they say it is only "partly true" that many expatriate New Zealanders came home after the 9/11 New York terror bombing, and the question of whether Christchurch overtook Wellington's population before last year's earthquake depends on how you define the two cities.

FACT OR FICTION?

NZ has 3m people and 60m sheep: FICTION
Sheep numbers peaked at 70.3m in 1982, when we had 3.2m people. But we now have only 31.1m sheep and 4.4m people.

More women are remaining childless: FACT
The proportion of women aged 45 to 49 years who were childless has risen from 9 per cent in 1981 to 13 per cent in 2006.

NZ is in the middle of a baby boom: FICTION
The average number of children each woman can expect in her lifetime fell from 4.3 in 1961 to less than 2 around the year 2000. It rose slightly to 2.18 in 2008 but by March this year it is 2.04.

NZ women have their first child at age 30: FICTION
The median age for women giving birth last year was 30, but the median age for having a first child was around 28.

Almost half of all Kiwis will soon be non-European: FICTION
By 2026, 16 per cent will be Maori, 16 per cent Asian and 10 per cent Pacific - but 70 per cent will still be European or be mixed race.

The average woman lives six years longer than the average man: FICTION
While true in the 1980s, the gap has closed to 3.7 years. On current death rates, a baby boy born today can expect to live 79.1 years and a baby girl 82.8 years.

Half of all marriages end in divorce: FICTION
There are roughly 20,000 marriages and 10,000 divorces every year, but only 35 per cent of couples who married in 1986 divorced before their 25th anniversaries in 2011.

Couples tend to divorce after seven years: FICTION
The peak divorce rate is only four years after marriage and divorce becomes steadily less likely with every year after that.

There's a brain drain: FICTION
On average over the past 15 years we've lost 300 labourers a year, and net losses of most other unskilled groups, but we've gained 1570 professionals a year because of our skills-based immigration policy.

NZ's population is drifting north: FICTION
A net inflow to Auckland up to 1996 has reversed. Since 2001 there has been a net outflow of people from Auckland to the rest of the country, although Auckland still gains more from overseas.

At least 1m Kiwis live overseas: Maybe.
There are 483,000 NZ-born people in Australia, about 58,000 NZ-born in Britain and 73,000 in the rest of the world, a total of 614,000. But you could easily get to around 1m if you count New Zealanders' children and NZ citizens who were not NZ-born.

Source: www.statistics.govt.nz

- NZ Herald

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