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

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Source: Statistics New Zealand (2007e) Table 1, and unpublished 2006 Census data (for European/New Zealander and Other)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 per cent. (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) In 2006, the Other category includes 17,514 people who identified with Middle Eastern ethnic groups, 6,657 with Latin American groups, and 10,647 people with African groups. (4) Up to three responses were used for 1991 and 1996; up to six for 2001 and 2006

In 2006, Māori made up 15 per cent of the total New Zealand population compared with 13 per cent in 1991. At 9 per cent, the Asian ethnic group is now the third largest group, ahead of Pacific peoples (7 per cent). According to 2006-based medium population projections, by 2026 the Māori share of the population is projected to be 17 per cent, the Pacific peoples share 10 per cent and the Asian share 16 per cent.6

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

The number of people with multiple ethnic identities is increasing. In 2006, 90 per cent of the population identified with only one ethnicity, down from 95 per cent in 1991. Younger people are far more likely to identify with more than one ethnicity than older people, with 19.7 per cent of children aged under 15 years reported as belonging to two or more ethnic groups in 2006, compared with 3.5 per cent of people aged 65 years and over. Birth registration data for the December 2008 year shows that 25 per cent of babies were identified with more than one ethnicity, compared with 13 per cent of mothers.7 Having multiple ethnic identities is most common among Māori: two-thirds of Māori children born in 2008 had more than one ethnicity, compared with one-half of Pacific babies, and just under one-third of babies within the European and Asian ethnic groups.

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.

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