Professor Natalie Jackson: “While we have economic cycles, we do not have demographic cycles and that can be difficult for people to accept. We’re providing the evidence base for them. This is a new and permanent reality. Overall growth is coming to an end.”
Already, 15 of New Zealand’s 67 territorial authorities have seen their populations either stop growing or go into what will be permanent decline.
Professor Natalie Jackson from Waikato University’s National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis (NIDEA) has been working with a summer research scholarship student Dave Greenslade to examine the triggers for decline.
Finding the triggers
“Once we can explain the triggers, then government and local authorities can plan for the future,” says Dave Greenslade. “But what councils first have to accept is that many are past the point of no return. While Auckland may keep growing, overall, New Zealand’s population will not.”
He says they’re still assessing the data and each area tends to have different characteristics, but clearly these 15 districts have a significant deficit of young adults. “Young women in particular are moving away and not coming back, so not only do you lose them, but you don’t get the children they may have.”
Tied to that, Mr Greenslade says areas in decline usually have more men than women. In the labour market, entry and exit ratios are being affected by the loss of young adults, coupled with the impact of low birth rates over recent decades. “As the working population ages and retires, it’s becoming harder to replace these people, so in time it becomes harder to find a plumber or a doctor for example.”
A new and permanent reality
Professor Jackson says some people still have their heads in the sand about this issue and view continued population growth as a given. “But while we have economic cycles, we do not have demographic cycles and that can be difficult for people to accept. We’re providing the evidence base for them. This is a new and permanent reality. Overall growth is coming to an end.”
Professor Jackson says immigration is no quick fix. “Immigrants grow old too, and apart from some small sectors, many immigrants have few children because they come here to work, under the business skills visa category, while the large numbers of international students who come here do not come to reproduce.”
She says once they’ve finished assessing the trigger data, they will then work on what can be done in the planning and policy development to promote community survival and well-being.
Dave Greenslade says being awarded the summer research scholarship has given him the chance to work on an extremely interesting and important topic, one he hopes to investigate further in a masters degree. A total of 66 students were awarded summer research scholarships in 2011, each worth $5000 to assist on Waikato University research projects.
List of districts that have stopped growing or declined, 2006-2010:
- Chatham Islands
- Gore district
- Kawerau district
- Opotiki district
- Otorohanga distict
- Rangitikei district
- South Taranaki district
- South Waikato district
- Tararua district
- Wairoa district
- Waitaki district
- Waitomo district
- Wanganui district
- Whakatane district
The University of Waikato – Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato