I often wonder what New Zealand will look like when the last of my "boomer" generation shuffle off this mortal coil in the mid-2060s.
I expect it will be a very different looking New Zealand to what we see today. I have dipped my toes into demographics just recently, reading Professor Paul Spoonley's excellent new book The New New Zealand. It is sobering reading.
Auckland is expected to get much bigger with the ongoing immigration that will begin again once Covid-19 is put to bed. The population will be less white and more Asian and brown than today.
The regions will be in decline. Many provincial towns are now losing their young to the bigger centres for education and work or overseas, many never to come home again. By 2030 it is predicted that there will be six million of us in New Zealand with about another 1.5 million living overseas. Most New Zealanders are likely to live north of Taupō.
The regional decline is contributed to by the ageing population in the smaller cities and towns not contributing to population growth and the reluctance of immigrants to leave the Auckland conurbation to settle in wider New Zealand. This is due to work opportunities and family support already existing in Auckland when they arrive in New Zealand.
Fertility rates for women are dropping markedly in the developed and developing world as more women gain higher education and make life choices between having children or not and having children much later in their lives, thereby limiting family size due to the mother's age.
At present the fertility rate for women in New Zealand is below replacement level. To sustain a population the fertility rate per woman is 2.1 children. As at 2013 the fertility rate for New Zealand women is 1.8 children per woman. If this is broken down to different cultures it is grim reading for Pākehā women at 1.7 children per woman compared to Māori and Pasifika rates of 2.6 and 2.8 children per woman respectively. Asian women are close to their Pākehā sisters at 1.8 children.
Of course immigration will continue to contribute heavily to population growth, with another 1 million New Zealanders expected to be living in this land within 10 years. That figure will be the result of people choosing to come to New Zealand for a new life just as all our forebears did, either 1000 years ago or in the last 200 years as well as a slowly declining birth rate.
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So, with these figures in mind, and this is only a very brief snapshot, what should we demand from our Government in terms of the development of Auckland and of the regions? As a resident of a small, but slowly growing regional centre I can attest to the wonderful lifestyle enjoyed by many in my town. Unfortunately towns like mine are not expected to thrive or grow much more in the coming decades according to demographics.
Do we need to accept this? Should immigrants coming to New Zealand be required to locate out of Auckland in regional cities and towns to bolster and enhance those areas? I believe they should and that local government demand that industry be incentivised more than at present to move out of the three big cities.
We have a wonderful rail system that is under-utilised and under-developed, a national highway system that is improving as the years roll by and technology simply does not require people to live in the same town as their employer. If Covid-19 has shown us anything, it is that many office-bound businesses can adapt to their workforces not coming to a central place every day.
The upside of immigrants moving out of Auckland and to the smaller regional areas will be an introduction to the beauty and benefits of other cultures, wonderful restaurants, more varied cultural activities and increased business activity in these towns.
The downside will be increasing house prices in smaller centres due to demand, a need for more housing and infrastructure planning, and busier roads in the smaller towns. My own town has had a recent increase in population of several thousand over the last five years and it is noticeable in terms of traffic activity. Towns laid out and settled in Victorian times with little need to change up until now will require ongoing and intense infrastructure development to cope with 21st century population needs if they are to continue to be viable places to live.
So New Zealand is likely to look very different within the next 40 years with increasing natural growth among Māori and Pasifika and continued immigration bringing much-needed skills and education from overseas. We will be more of a Polynesian and Asian country than a European-centric society. Hopefully spread throughout New Zealand, taking the load off Auckland.