4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2001  
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Contents >> Population >> Population Characteristics: Populations of Australia and New Zealand: a comparison

Population Characteristics: Populations of Australia and New Zealand: a comparison

Australia and New Zealand experienced similar declines in fertility between 1960 and 2000 and notable improvements in life expectancy during the twentieth century.

Population data
Information relating to Australia's population has been drawn from Australian Demographic Statistics, June 2000 (cat. no. 3101.0), Births, Australia, 1999 (cat. no. 3301.0), Deaths, Australia, 1999 (cat. no. 3302.0), Migration, Australia, 1999-2000 (cat. no. 3412.0) and the 1996 Census of Population and Housing.

Information relating to New Zealand's population has been drawn from Statistics New Zealand, Demographic Trends, 2000 and the New Zealand Official Yearbook 2000.

Australia and New Zealand use the same method to derive their resident populations. Post-censal estimates of the number of Australian and New Zealand residents are based on the Census date estimates (adjusted for Census undercounts and residents temporarily overseas) and then adjusted for natural increase (excess of births over deaths) and net overseas migration.

The ABS and Statistics New Zealand use similar approaches to identifying their indigenous populations. People belonging to the New Zealand Maori ethnic group are those who self-identify as Maori. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are those who identify as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin.

Australia and New Zealand have many common links. Both countries were recently settled by Europeans, are predominantly English speaking and in that sense, share a common cultural heritage. Although in close proximity to one another, both countries are geographically isolated and have small populations by world standards. They have similar histories and enjoy close relations on many fronts.

In terms of population characteristics, Australia and New Zealand have much in common. Both countries have minority indigenous populations, and during the latter half of the 20th century have seen a steady stream of migrants from a variety of regions throughout the world. Both countries have experienced similar declines in fertility since the high levels recorded during the baby boom, and alongside this have enjoyed the benefits of continually improving life expectancy. One consequence of these trends is that both countries are faced with an ageing population, and the associated challenge of providing appropriate care and support for this growing group within the community.


New Zealand

Population (million)
June 2000
    0-14 years (%)
June 2000
    15-64 years (%)
June 2000
    65 years and over (%)
June 2000
Median age (years)
June 2000
Population growth (%)
    1999-2000 (%)
June 2000
    1992-2000 (average annual %)
June 2000
Net overseas migration ('000)
Total fertility rate (babies per woman)
Life expectancy
    Males (years)
    Females (years)

Sources: Australian Demographic Statistics, June 2000 (cat. no. 3101.0); Births, Australia, 1999 (cat. no. 3301.0); Deaths, Australia, 1999 (cat. no. 3302.0); Statistics New Zealand, Demographic Trends, 2000, Wellington.

Population size, growth and distribution
At 30 June 2000, Australia's population was 19.2 million people, while New Zealand's was 3.8 million. Between 1992 and 2000, Australia and New Zealand experienced similar average annual growth rates of 1.1%. However, while Australia's population growth rate was relatively steady over the decade, New Zealand's growth rate declined from 1.6% in 1995-96 to 0.5% in 1998-99, largely because of declining levels of net overseas migration. From a peak gain of 29,500 in 1996-97, New Zealand's net overseas migration decreased to losses of 11,400 in 1998-99 and 9,800 in 1999-00. Most emigration in these years was to Australia.

Although both countries have their roots in agriculture, and a century ago had about half their populations living in rural areas, they are now among the most highly urbanised countries in the world. In 1996, 86% of Australians and 85% of New Zealanders were living in urban areas of 1,000 or more people.

The indigenous people of Australia and New Zealand are a relatively small group within each country's population. In June 1996, Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population numbered 386,000, while New Zealand's Maori population was 523,400. As Maori people make up a greater proportion of the total population than the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population (15% compared with 2% in 1996), they have a greater impact on the dynamics of New Zealand's population.

Source: Australian Demographic Statistics (cat. no. 3101.0).Source: Statistics New Zealand, Demographic Trends, 2000, Wellington.

Since the early 1960s, the total fertility rates of both Australian and New Zealand women have declined, although the rates for New Zealand have generally been slightly higher than for Australia. Between 1962 and 1999, the total fertility rate of Australian women fell from 3.4 to 1.7 babies per woman, compared with 4.2 to 2.0 babies per woman for New Zealand women. Over this period, similar social changes affected the level of fertility in both countries, with couples marrying later, having fewer children and later in life, or foregoing parenthood altogether (see Australian Social Trends 2001, Older mothers).

In common with other developed countries, fertility has fallen below replacement level (the number of babies a woman would need to replace herself and her partner, that is, about 2.1 on average) in both countries. This occurred in 1976 in Australia and 1980 in New Zealand. Despite this, in 2000 the number of births exceeded the number of deaths in both countries, because the age structure of each population was still relatively young. Natural increase will continue to contribute to population growth for the first 30 to 40 years of this century in each country. However, in the longer term, as the population ages and deaths eventually outnumber births, any population growth in either country would stem from net overseas migration gains.

The higher fertility levels of New Zealand women compared with Australian women over the period can be attributed to the higher proportion of Maori and Pacific Islands women in New Zealand's population. The fertility patterns of the indigenous populations of Australia and New Zealand show that while indigenous women tend to have more children at younger ages than the non-Indigenous population, they too have experienced a decline in fertility over the last 40 years. The total fertility rate of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women fell from about 5.8 babies per woman in the 1960s to 2.1 babies per woman in 1999. Similarly, the total fertility rate for Maori women fell from about 5.8 babies per woman in the 1960s to 2.6 in 1999 (these figures need to be interpreted with caution because of question and definitional changes between 1960 and 1999).


(a) The total fertility rate is the number of babies a woman would bear during her life if she experienced current age-specific fertility rates at each age of her reproductive life.
(b) Figures prior to 1991 refer to the de facto population (all people in New Zealand at a given time, including overseas visitors), whereas figures from 1991 refer to the resident population of New Zealand.

Source: Births, Australia, 1999 (cat. no. 3301.0); Statistics New Zealand, Demographic Trends, 2000, Wellington.

The people of Australia and New Zealand experienced substantial gains in life expectancy throughout the 20th century. An Australian baby boy and girl born during the years 1997-1999 could be expected to live for 76 and 82 years respectively, based on current patterns of mortality. New Zealand boys and girls had slightly lower life expectancies (75 years and 80 years respectively) for the same period. These levels ranked among the highest in the world, behind Japan and some European countries.

The life expectancies of indigenous people in both countries are lower than those of the total population. In 1997-1999, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians had a life expectancy about 20 years lower than that of the Australian population as a whole. In comparison, the life expectancy of New Zealand Maoris was about 10 years lower than that of the total New Zealand population, based on 1995-1997 life tables.

LIFE EXPECTANCY, 1997-1999(a)

(a) Maori life expectancy data is from 1995-1997 life tables.

Source: Deaths, Australia, 1999 (cat. no. 3302.0); Statistics New Zealand, Demographic Trends, 2000, Wellington.

The major causes of death in both Australia and New Zealand are cancer, ischaemic heart disease and stroke. In 1997, cancer was the leading cause of death in both countries, accounting for over a quarter of deaths. Ischaemic heart disease accounted for 23% of deaths in both countries and stroke for 9%.

Gains in life expectancy over the last century can be attributed in part to improvements in the infant mortality rate. The infant mortality rate is an indicator of population health and living conditions. The world infant mortality rate was projected to be 57 infant deaths per 1,000 live births for the year 2000. Australia's and New Zealand's rates of 5.7 and 5.6 respectively in 1999, ranked among the lowest in the world. However, the rates for the indigenous populations were notably higher than for the total population of each country. In 1999, the infant mortality rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders was 15.5 deaths per 1,000 live births for male infants and 12.7 for female infants. In the same year, the Maori infant mortality rates were 10.2 and 5.9 respectively.

Mortality indicators
Life expectancy at birth is the average number of years a child at birth may live if the age-specific death rates of the given period continued throughout his/her lifetime.

The infant mortality rate is the number of deaths of children under one year of age in a calendar year per 1,000 live births in that calendar year.

External migration
Both Australia and New Zealand are countries open to immigration, although over time the source countries of migrants have varied. Migration has had a major impact on the size, growth and composition of each country's population, particularly since the end of World War II. Over the second half of the 20th century, the levels of migration were characterised by large fluctuations, often in response to changing economic conditions and shifts in government policy.

Migrants from the United Kingdom and Ireland dominated flows into both countries from colonial days until the end of World War II, and continued to do so in New Zealand until the 1970s. After World War II, Australia's migrant stream continued to be mainly from the United Kingdom, but expanded to include refugees from Eastern Europe and people from Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia.


New Zealand(b)

Previous country of residence%Previous country of residence%
    New Zealand
    United Kingdom
    Hong Kong (SAR of China)
    China (excludes SARs and Taiwan Province)
    China (excludes SARs and Taiwan Province)
    South Africa
    United States of America
    Average arrivals 1996-2000(c)
    Average arrivals 1996-2000(c)

Average arrivals 1996-2000(c)194,986Average arrivals 1996-2000(c)44,841

(a) Permanent and long-term arrivals, excluding Australian residents.
(b) Permanent and long-term arrivals, excluding New Zealand citizens.
(c) Includes permanent and long-term arrivals from all countries.

Source: ABS Overseas Arrivals and Departures Collection; Data supplied by Statistics New Zealand.

Since the 1970s, Australia and New Zealand have allowed migration from a wider range of countries. This has led to an increasing proportion of migrants to both countries coming from Northeast and Southeast Asia, and, for New Zealand, from the Pacific Islands. Between 1996 and 2000, residents of Indonesia, Hong Kong and China made up 16% of all permanent and long-term arrivals to Australia. Over the same period, residents of Japan made up 9% of permanent and long-term arrivals to New Zealand, while residents of China made up 8%.

As a result of these historical and more recent movements, each country has become more culturally diverse. A quarter of Australia's population in 2000 had been born overseas compared with about a fifth of New Zealand's population in 1996.

Population movement between Australia and New Zealand has occurred since European settlement began in the two countries, but has increased substantially over the last three decades with the introduction of travel by air and intergovernmental agreements promoting closer economic relations. Both the level and direction of movement have been associated with relative economic conditions in the two countries.1

Between 1996 and 2000, 15% of permanent and long-term arrivals to Australia were New Zealand residents, the largest group in each year. Over the same period, although Australian residents accounted for 10% of permanent and long-term arrivals to New Zealand, the United Kingdom was the largest source country (13% of arrivals). Because of the difference in the volume of immigration to Australia and New Zealand, there was a substantial net gain in trans-Tasman migration to Australia of approximately 25,000 per year over the period.

Age structure
The age structure of a population encapsulates the effects of past changes in fertility, mortality and migration patterns. In 2000, although Australia had a slightly older age profile than New Zealand, both countries had a high proportion of the population aged 35-54 years. These were a combination of people born during the post World War II baby boom and migrants of the same ages who arrived during this period.

The gradual fertility decline which occurred during the 1990s was evident in a smaller proportion of children in each population than in the past - 21% of Australia's population and 23% of New Zealand's were under 15 years of age in 2000 (compared with 27% and 30% respectively in 1976). At the other end of the age range, the growing number of people living to older ages reflects improvements in life expectancy. The proportion of the population aged 65 years and over was 12% in both countries in 2000 (compared with 9% for both in 1976).

Along with other developed countries, Australia and New Zealand populations are ageing and this is set to continue in the future as the baby boomers move into older age groups. Between 1991 and 2000, the median age increased from 32 to 35 years for Australia and 31 to 34 years for New Zealand. Population projections for each country suggest that by 2051 the median ages will be about 46 and 45 years respectively.2


New Zealand

Age group (years)
    65 and over

Median age

Source: Experimental projections of the Indigenous population, 1996 to 2006 (cat. no. 3231.0); Statistics New Zealand website:
<URL:http://www.stats.govt.nz/domino/external/web/prod_serv.nsf/htmldocs/Maori+Population+Estimates+Tables> (accessed 2 April 2001).

The indigenous populations of both countries have a considerably younger age structure than that of the total population, resulting from their higher fertility and mortality rates. In 2000, 39% of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population and 37% of the Maori population were aged under 15 years (compared with 21% and 23% of all people in Australia and New Zealand respectively), while only 3% of each group were aged 65 years and over (compared with 12% of all people in both countries). Consequently, in 2000 the indigenous populations had low median ages - 20 years and 21 years respectively (compared with 35 years and 34 years for the total populations of Australia and New Zealand).

Trans-Tasman links
Trans-Tasman links go back to the early years of European settlement. The two colonies traded in flax and agricultural products from as early as the 1790s, and sealing ships from Sydney and Hobart visited New Zealand waters around 1800.3 In 1885, New Zealand, along with several colonial governments, formed the Federal Council of Australasia. This body had the power to make suggestions for common legislation in a range of matters.4

Australia and New Zealand soldiers fought alongside one another in both World Wars and in a number of other military engagements during the last century. The long-standing defence links between the two countries were formalised in the Canberra Pact in 1944 and the ANZUS treaty in 1952.5

The Trans-Tasman Travel agreement signed by Australia and New Zealand in 1973, allows most citizens of both countries to move freely between the two countries without visa restrictions.

Australia and New Zealand are major trading partners. The Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations (CER) Trade Agreement was signed in 1983. Complete free trade of goods was achieved in 1990.5

1 Carmichael, G.A. (ed) 1993, Trans-Tasman Migration: Trends, Causes and Consequences, AGPS, Canberra.

2 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2000, Population Projections, Australia, 1999 to 2101, cat. no. 3222.0, ABS, Canberra.

3 Oliver, W.H. and Williams, B.R. (eds) 1981, The Oxford History of New Zealand, Oxford University Press, Aukland.

4 The Federation Story, The Official Website of the National Council for the Centenary of Federation
http://www.centenary.gov.au/resources/history/federation_story.php> (accessed 30 January 2001).

5 Statistics New Zealand, 2000, New Zealand Official Yearbook 2000, PrintLink, Wellington.

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