Age profile

This section describes the age structure of New Zealand’s population. It also explains why children and older adults are more at risk from environmental hazards.

Our population age structure

In 2013, in the total population:

  • 20 percent were children (aged 0–14 years)
  • 66 percent were working age (aged 15–64 years)
  • 14 percent were aged 65 years and over (65+ years).

An ageing population

Our population is getting older. The median age of New Zealanders increased from 34.8 years in 2001, to 38.0 years in 2013.

Older adults make up an increasingly large proportion of the New Zealand population.

  • 2001: 450,400 people aged 65+ years (12 percent of population)
  • 2013: 607,000 people aged 65+ years (14 percent of population)

Figure 1: Percentage (%) of New Zealand's population aged 65+ years and 85+ years, 1981-2013

Older adults will make up an increasingly large proportion of the population over the next 30–50 years.  The population aged 65+ years was about 600,000 in 2012 (14 percent of the total population), and is projected to double to 1.2 million by 2036 (23 percent of the total population) [1]. 

The number of people aged 85+ is also expected to increase significantly.  The population aged 85+ years was about 73,000 in 2013 (1.7 percent of the population). It is projected to increase to nearly 200,000 people by 2036 (3.6 percent of the population).

Visit the Statistics New Zealand website to view population pyramids and projections.

Māori and Pacific groups have younger populations

Māori and Pacific people have a younger age profile than total New Zealand.  In 2013, 34 percent of Māori and 36 percent of Pacific were children (aged 0–14 years). This compares to 20 percent in the total population.

The median age for Māori is 23.9 years, and for Pacific is 22.1 years. This compares to a median age of 41.0 years for the NZ European population, and a median age of 30.6 years for the Asian population.

See population pyramids for different ethnic groups on Statistics New Zealand's webpage on major ethnic groups in New Zealand.

Regional differences in age structure

Some regions in New Zealand have an older population, while others have a younger population.

Figure 2: Percentage of the population in each age group, 2013 (%)

Younger and older people more vulnerable to environmental risks

Infants and children are particularly affected by the environment due to several reasons:

  • Children are still developing and growing, which makes them more susceptible to toxins and illness.
  • Children’s breathing rate is higher than adults, making them more susceptible to air pollution.
  • Children have limited mobility, so spend longer in one place and must depend on others to move them out of dangerous areas.
  • Their behaviour includes lots of hand-to-mouth activity, which exposes them more to some hazards (e.g. lead from soil).
  • Children spend most of their time in the home environment.
  • Children’s younger age and longer life expectancy means that they may yet be affected by some hazardous substances with long lag (latency) periods.

Older adults can also be more affected by environmental hazards.

  • Older adults may have limited mobility, strength and balance. This means they are in one place for longer periods, and depend on others to move them out of dangerous areas. 
  • Older adults have higher rates of chronic disease, which can make them more sensitive to environmental hazards like air pollution. For example, days with lots of air pollution will be tolerated less by people with chronic lung disease, because their lungs are already working hard to cope at ‘normal’ levels of air pollution. 
  • Older adults are more sensitive to dehydration on very hot days, and the effects of cold on cold days.


1. Statistics New Zealand. 2012. National Population Projections: 2011(base)-2061. Hot Off the Press. Wellington: Statistics New Zealand. 

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