Changing makeup of population and retention of qualified students behind change, say demographic experts.

The Asian birth rate in New Zealand has climbed ahead of the European rate for the first time, according to a new report on maternity.

The Health Ministry yesterday published its latest annual report on maternity, when 62,321 women gave birth in 2012. This equates to a birth rate of 69 per 1000 females of reproductive age.

The report shows the Maori and Pacific birth rates remained by far the highest, at 102 and 106 births per 1000 females of reproductive age respectively. They had increased from 2003 then decreased from 2009 and 2007 respectively.

The Asian rate reached 62 per 1000 women aged 15 to 44 in 2012, ahead of the European and other group on 57, and well up on the Asian rate's low point of 45 between 2003 and 2008 when it began its significant rise.

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In 2012, births to Asian women were 14 per cent of all births, compared with 6 per cent in 1999; European births were 48 per cent in 2012, down from 59 per cent; Maori were 25 per cent, up from 19 per cent; and Pacific were 11 per cent, up from 10 per cent.

An important factor thought to be driving the increased Asian birth rate is the maturing of the New Zealand Asian population's age structure, reflecting a relative increase in the proportion of those of child-bearing age at the expense of those of the typical student age group.

"The temporary visa population, particularly the student visa population, are now a major source of our permanent migrants as they complete their qualifications and get jobs here," said Massey University sociologist Professor Paul Spoonley.

His colleague Professor Natalie Jackson, a demographer, agreed.

"They become part of the population and are having children. It's quite a positive sign that they are not being shipped off home when they are finished studying."

Statistics NZ demographer Dr Robert Didham said the increased Asian birth rate reflected the changing composition of the Asian New Zealand population - "more New Zealand-born women of Asian ethnicities entering the child-bearing ages, more families forming in or settling in New Zealand, fewer tertiary students as a proportion of the female adult population."

Waikato University demographer Emeritus Professor Ian Pool said another important factor was the changing composition of New Zealand's Asian population, particularly the increase of Filipinos.

They tended to be of reproductive age and the migrants came from an area of higher fertility.

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'More kids is fun': migrant

Annemarie Chen (9 years old), Eva Chen (mother) with Marcus Chen (11 months old) on her knee, Claudia Chen(7 years old) Photo / supplied
Annemarie Chen (9 years old), Eva Chen (mother) with Marcus Chen (11 months old) on her knee, Claudia Chen(7 years old) Photo / supplied

Eva Chen has done more than average to lift the Asian birth rate in New Zealand.
The 35-year-old Taiwanese migrant, whose husband is from Shanghai in China, has four children aged 11 months to 9 years.

"Most of us just want to have one or two; three will be the maximum they think they can handle.

I like to have four because I come from a big family. More kids is fun," said Mrs Chen, who came to New Zealand in 1997 as a student.

She is now the chief executive of the Wellbeing Charitable Trust Board Chinese Family Service, which helps Chinese immigrants adapt to New Zealand ways of parenting.

"We provide workshops for Chinese families so they know how Kiwi parents raise their babies. There's quite a lot of differences that make the mums anxious because most are first-time mums without parents around.

"We tell them that both ways are okay, you just have to find a balance in between that will help reduce the nervousness and worry. There's a lot of post-natal depression because of that."

She said deciding how long to breastfeed was a problem for some. The New Zealand health system's strong advocacy of exclusive breastfeeding could come into conflict with a traditional Chinese view that breast milk "has no use" after a baby has reached six months of age.

"We advise to breastfeed as long as they can, because everyone is different."