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Ethnic composition of the population

The ethnic diversity of the New Zealand population continues to increase.

While the European ethnic group still has the largest share (78 percent) of the total population, the number of people identifying as European increased by only 8 percent in the 15 years between 1991 and 2006. Over the same period, the number who identified as Māori increased by 30 percent, the Pacific peoples ethnic group increased by 59 percent, and the number of Asian people increased by 255 percent. While people of all other ethnicities still make up less than 1 percent of the population, they grew in number faster than any of the major ethnic groups (by 440 percent).

Table P3 Ethnic distribution of the population, 1991–2006

Ethnic group (1) 1991 % 1996 % 2001 % 2006 %
European (2) 2,783,028 83.2 2,879,085 83.1 2,871,432 80.1 2,997,051 77.6
Māori 434,847 13.0 523,374 15.1 526,281 14.7 565,329 14.6
Pacific peoples 167,070 5.0 202,233 5.8 231,798 6.5 265,974 6.9
Asian 99,759 3.0 173,502 5.0 238,176 6.6 354,549 9.2
Other 6,597 0.2 15,804 0.5 24,885 0.7 36,237 0.9
Total people with ethnicity specified 3,345,741   3,466,515   3,586,641   3,860,163  

Source: Statistics New Zealand (2007j), Table 1; and unpublished 2006 Census data (for European/New Zealander and Other)
Notes: (1) Includes all of the people who stated an ethnic group, whether as their only ethnic group or as one of several ethnic groups. Where a person reported more than one ethnic group, they have been counted in each applicable group. Totals therefore do not add up to 100 percent (2) Before the 2006 Census, people who specified their ethnicity as "New Zealander" were included in the European ethnic group. The 429,429 people who identified as "New Zealander" in 2006 have been included in the European ethnic group to maintain consistency over time (3) Up to three responses were used for 1991 and 1996; up to six for 2001 and 2006. Previous social reports used data based on up to three ethnicity responses for 1991, 1996 and 2001, therefore the 2001 count for ethnic groups in the table above is slightly higher than that published in previous social reports

In 2006, Māori made up 15 percent of the total New Zealand population compared with 13 percent in 1991. At 9 percent, the Asian ethnic group is now the third largest group, ahead of Pacific peoples (7 percent). According to 2001-based medium population projections, by 2021 the Māori share of the population is projected to be 17 percent, the Pacific peoples share 9 percent and the Asian share 15 percent.6

Ethnic diversity varies by age: among those aged under 25 years at the 2006 Census, Europeans made up 72 percent, Māori 22 percent, Pacific peoples and Asians each 11 percent, and people of all other ethnicities 1 percent. Among those aged 65 years and over, Europeans made up 91 percent, Māori 5 percent, Asians 3 percent, Pacific peoples 2 percent and people of other ethnicities 0.2 percent.

The number of people with multiple ethnic identities is increasing. In 2006, 90 percent of the population identified with only one ethnicity, down from 95 percent in 1991. Younger people are far more likely to identify with more than one ethnicity than older people, with 19.7 percent of children under 15 years reported as belonging to two or more ethnic groups in 2006, compared with 3.5 percent of people aged 65 years and over. Birth registration data for 2005 shows that 22 percent of babies were identified with more than one ethnicity, compared with 11 percent of mothers.7 Having multiple ethnic identities is most common among Māori: 62 percent of Māori children born in 2005 had more than one ethnicity, compared with 48 percent of Pacific babies and 28 percent each of European and Asian babies.

The figures for the ethnic distribution used in this section are based on the number of people identifying with each ethnicity. Because people can identify with more than one ethnicity, the total number of ethnic responses may be greater than the number of people. Elsewhere in the report, the approach to measuring ethnicity varies with the data source used.