New Zealand's fertility rate has dropped below two births per woman for the first time in a decade, officially ending a "baby blip" that peaked in 2008 just before the global recession hit.

Statistics NZ says the country's total fertility rate - the number of babies a woman will have in her lifetime if current age-specific fertility rates stay the same throughout her life - fell from 2.01 in 2013 to 1.92 last year, the lowest since 2002.

A fertility rate of 2.1 births per woman is required to maintain the population, allowing for infant mortality.

The "baby blip", which saw the fertility rate peak at 2.19 in 2008, is seen by demographers as a faint echo of another upward blip around 1990, which represented babies being born to the children of the great post-war baby boom in which the fertility rate peaked at 4.31 births per woman in 1961. The latest blip was partly a "catch-up" as women who delayed having babies in their 20s finally started having children in their 30s and 40s.


Apart from these two blips, New Zealand's fertility rate has been below replacement level for most of the time since the late 1970s, averaging just 2.03 births per woman over the past 30 years.

Ethnic and regional fertility rates, which are calculated only after every census, were also released today for the 2013 census. They show that fertility rates in the three years centred on the census were above replacement rates for Pacific women (2.73) and Maori women (2.49), but below replacement for European women (1.92) and Asian women (1.69).

Northland, with 2.55 births per woman, displaced Gisborne as the region with the highest fertility rate, reflecting the fact that 30 per cent of Northlanders are Maori.

Nationally, the fertility rates for Maori women under 25 were more than double those of the general population. However, the Maori rates were below the national average for women in their 30s.