3101.0 - Australian Demographic Statistics, Mar 2001  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 20/09/2001   
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Special Article - Populations of Australia and New Zealand: a comparison

This article was published in Australian Demographic Statistics, March Quarter 2001 (ABS Cat. no. 3101.0).

In terms of population characteristics, Australia and New Zealand have much in common. Both countries have a similar history of European settlement, are predominantly English speaking, 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 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.


At 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 this period, 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 became negative to losses of 11,400 in 1998-99 and 9,800 in 1999-00. Most emigration in these years was to Australia.

Both countries have their roots in agriculture, and a century ago had about half their populations living in rural areas. In 1996, 86% of Australians and 85% of New Zealanders lived in urban areas of 1,000 or more people.


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 at birth
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.


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 for Australian women fell from 3.4 to 1.7 babies per woman, compared with a fall from 4.2 to 2.0 babies per woman for New Zealand women.

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 current age structure of each population is still relatively young. Natural increase is projected to 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 will stem from net overseas migration gains.


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 expect to live for 76 and 82 years, respectively, based on current patterns of mortality. Newborn 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.

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.

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 and stroke for 9% in both countries.


Both Australia and New Zealand are countries open to immigration and this has had a major impact on the size, growth and composition of each country's population, particularly since the end of World War II.

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, the levels of migration were characterised by large fluctuations, often in response to changing economic conditions and shifts in government policy. Australia's migrant stream expanded to include displaced persons from Eastern Europe and people from Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia. Since the 1970s increasing proportions of migrants have come to both countries from Northeast and Southeast Asia, and, to New Zealand, from the Pacific Islands.

Population movement between Australia and New Zealand is associated with the relative economic conditions in both countries1. It has occurred since European settlement and has increased substantially in the last three decades. Between 1996 and 2000 the largest group of permanent and long-term arrivals to Australia was from New Zealand (15%). For the same category of arrivals to New Zealand the largest contributor was the United Kingdom (13%) while Australia's contribution was 10%. 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.


Additional analysis and data are available in the ABS publication Australian Social Trends, 2001 (Cat. no. 4102.0) which was released on 6 June 2001.

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