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New Zealand’s population reflects growing diversity

23 September 2019

Results from the 2018 Census show New Zealand’s cultural make-up is becoming more diverse after high population growth in the past five years, Stats NZ said today.

There were 1,271,775 people in the census usually resident population count in March 2018 who were born overseas.

“The census showed that 27.4 percent of people counted were not born in New Zealand, up from 25.2 percent in 2013. Those with an overseas birthplace were born in almost every country in the world, including 15 people born at sea,” census general manager Kathy Connolly said.

“The growth in the overseas-born population coincides with higher migration over the last five years, especially by young adults coming to study or work in New Zealand,” Ms Connolly said.

Ethnicity as a proportion of the population

“While the Māori, Asian, Pacific, and Middle Eastern / Latin American / African ethnic groups have grown, the European ethnic group is still the largest by a significant margin,” Ms Connolly said.

According to the 2018 Census, 3,297,864 people – or 70.2 percent of the population – identified with at least one European ethnicity. This is down from 74.0 percent in the 2013 Census, although the European ethnic population continues to grow.

The next largest ethnic group, Māori (775,836), represented 16.5 percent of the population in 2018, up from 14.9 percent in 2013.

The Asian ethnic group (707,598) remained the third largest, with 15.1 percent of the population identifying with at least one Asian ethnicity, up from 11.8 percent in 2013. The largest Asian ethnic groups were Chinese not further defined (231,387), Indian not further defined (221,916) and Filipino (72,612). Over 1 in 5 people who identified with at least one Asian ethnic group were born in New Zealand.

There were 381,642 people who identified with at least one Pacific ethnic group. This grouping made up 8.1 percent of the population, up from 7.4 percent in 2013. The largest groups were Samoan (182,721), Tongan (82,389), and Cook Islands Maori (80,532). Almost two-thirds of people who identified with at least one Pacific ethnic group were born in New Zealand.

In the 2018 Census, 70,332 people identified with at least one Middle Eastern / Latin American / African ethnicity. This is 1.5 percent of the population, up from 1.2 percent in 2013.

About the 2018 Census dataset

We combined data from the census forms with administrative data to create the 2018 Census dataset, which meets Stats NZ’s quality criteria for population structure information.

We added real data about real people to the dataset where we were confident they should be counted, but they hadn’t completed a census form. We also used data from the 2013 Census and administrative sources, and statistical imputation methods to fill in some missing characteristics of people.

The independent External Data Quality Panel has endorsed the statistical approaches used by Stats NZ to mitigate non-response.


Ethnicity is the ethnic group or groups a person identifies with or has a sense of belonging to, and is independent of birthplace.

Each person in the 2018 Census dataset has at least one ethnicity. Most people (84.1 percent) stated their ethnicities on the 2018 Census individual form. For the remaining people, we used 2013 Census data (8.3 percent), administrative data (6.3 percent), and imputation (1.2 percent) to fill in all missing values. This has improved the quality and completeness of the 2018 Census ethnicity data. Through the use of these methods, the ethnicity counts in the 2018 Census are generally higher than in the 2013 Census, including for Māori and Pacific ethnic groups. Due to changes in the 2018 Census methodology and lower than anticipated response rates, time series data should be interpreted with care.

As with previous censuses, people can and do have more than one ethnicity. For this reason, counts sum to more than the total population and proportions sum to more than 100 percent.

Population estimates

Population estimates by ethnic group – which include allowances for ethnic non-response, census undercount, and residents temporarily overseas – will give the best available measure of the level 1 ethnic group populations living in New Zealand and also the best measure of change over time. The estimates are available for 1996, 2001, 2006, and 2013. The 2018 Census counts will be used to update ethnic population estimates in March 2020.

See our population at glance

Our graphic New Zealand as a village of a 100 people presents an overview of New Zealand’s population in 2018. It describes our population as if the country were a village of 100 people.

The Government Statistician authorises all statistics and data we publish.

For more information about these statistics:
• Visit 2018 Census population and dwelling counts


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