The 2018 Census reveals rapid growth in the Māori population - or does it?

Between the 2013 and 2018 Censuses, the number of working Māori in New Zealand has grown by 105,000. That’s a 50 percent increase in five years! Despite a period of very high immigration, more than a quarter of the growth in the labour market is the addition of Māori workers. Labour force projections based on Statistics New Zealand Māori population projections suggested a growth of this magnitude would take until 2038. It was reached 20 years early. 

The total Māori population has also grown substantially, with 180,000 additional Māori living in New Zealand.

Despite a period of very high immigration, more than a quarter of the growth in the labour market is the addition of Māori workers

Māori population is young

One of the big differences between the Māori population and the general New Zealand population is the age structure. While the New Zealand European population is ageing quickly, the Māori population is very young, resulting in an increasing share of Māori in the labour force each year. This trend will continue.  Since the 2013 Census, 71,070 Māori children were born, today just under one quarter of New Zealander’s under five years old are Māori. The net natural increase over the period was 54,000, leaving an unexplained increase of 126,000 Māori in New Zealand.

Where did they come from? There are a few possible explanations.

Returning from overseas

It is not long ago that kiwis leaving New Zealand for higher wages overseas was a regular occurrence in the news. It seems with a slight slowdown in the global economy, (though still often offering higher wages) Māori have started returning to New Zealand.  

Other than New Zealand, the country with the most Māori is Australia, where 142,000 people indicated Māori ancestry in the 2016 Australian Census. There are also significant populations of Māori in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, though the total number of Māori living overseas is unknown. Official statistics on the number of returning New Zealanders are also limited, but is seems unlikely that 126,000 Māori have returned over the past five years.

Census 2018 upgrade

It is likely there is also an effect of the 2018 Census. Chief Statistician Liz MacPherson agreed that response rates for Māori and Pacific people are “unacceptably low”, with 68 percent of Māori responding. 

To complete the Census file, Statistics New Zealand have performed extensive additional work to create Census records for non-respondents from administrative data. This data included information from all government departments, including the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Development, Inland Revenue, and the Ministry of Education.

It’s possible that in the process of imputing these additional people to the Census file, as well as imputing the labour force status and ethnicity for some people, the coverage of Māori in New Zealand has actually improved somewhat, resulting in an increased number of Māori being counted. Similarly, the use of Inland Revenue’s tax information is able to determine whether these individuals are in paid employment, something that was not possible in 2013. 

It’s possible that the coverage of Māori in New Zealand has actually improved somewhat

Increased sense of cultural identity

One final possible explanation is an increased number of people identifying as being of Māori ethnicity. The Census allows any number of ethnic groups to be chosen by respondents. Perhaps some growth is the result of individuals that have not previously identified as Māori, choosing to identify as Māori in 2018. 

It is likely that the change is a combination of factors, though we won’t be able to fully confirm the rapid growth is accurate until the next Census. If everything goes to plan, the results from the 2023 Census should be available by early 2024.