Population size and change

This section provides statistics on where people live in Aotearoa New Zealand and how this has changed over time.

You can also find information on how population size and growth can impact on the environment and our health.

New Zealand’s population hits 5 million

As at March 2020, the New Zealand population was estimated to be 5,002,100 people [1].

In 2018, there were 4,699,755 people living in New Zealand, according to the 2018 Census of Populations and Dwellings.

As at 2018, Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand, with one in three people (33.4%) living there.  The major population centres in New Zealand are:

  • Auckland City (1,571,700 people)
  • Christchurch City (369,000 people)
  • Wellington City (202,700 people)
  • Hamilton City (160,900 people)
  • Tauranga City (136,700 people)
  • Dunedin City (126,300 people).

Overall, 76.5% of the New Zealand population lives on the North Island.

New Zealand has a relatively low population density

Population density is relatively low in New Zealand by international standards [2], at 17.5 people per square kilometre.

Territorial authorities with the highest population densities include Hamilton City, Tauranga City, Wellington City, Napier City, Porirua City and Auckland City (Figure 1).

Territorial authorities with the lowest population densities include Chatham Islands Territory, Westland District and Mackenzie District.

Figure 1Population density by Territorial Authority, 2018 (people per square kilometre) 

Population growth highest in Queenstown Lakes, Selwyn, Kaipara and Central Otago

Population growth in New Zealand has been slow and constant in the past few decades. In 2018, the New Zealand population was 4.70 million people, up from 4.24 million in 2013. This represented a 10.8% population increased over this five-year period.

Territorial authorities with a large population increase in the five-year period from 2013 to 2018 included Queenstown Lakes District (38.7% increase), Selwyn District (35.8% increase), Kaipara District (20.6% increase) and Central Otago District (20.5% increase) (Figure 2).

Two territorial authorities saw a population decrease from 2013 to 2018: Buller District (8.4% decrease) and Grey District (0.2% decrease).

Figure 2Population change by Territorial Authority, 2013 to 2018 (% change) (note: green = increase in population size; purple = decrease in population size) 

In terms of population numbers, Auckland had the largest gain since 2013 (an additional 156,200 people, an 11.0% increase).

Population size and change can affect environmental health

Population growth can affect environmental health in both positive and negative ways.

An increase in population can have positive environmental health outcomes, through economic development and growth, and possibly increased funding for programmes related to environmental issues [3]. In areas with larger populations, services such as public transport, reticulated water supplies and good wastewater treatment plants can be more cost effective.

However, urban areas with larger populations can put pressure on the environment. For example, population growth and higher population density can lead to higher levels of air pollution, due to home heating, vehicles and industry.

Rapid or persistent population growth can also place heavy demands on the environment and ecosystems, and can put pressure on local infrastructure and services [4]. Negative effects of population growth can include waste and sanitation issues and poorer recreational water quality.

A decreasing population size can put pressure on essential services. Fewer ratepayers can make it difficult to maintain basic infrastructure.

Information about the data

Census usual resident population count and change
Source: New Zealand 2018 Census of Populations and Dwellings 

Definition: This data comes from the 2018 Census of Populations and Dwellings. The 2018 Census had a lower than expected response rate, resulting in Stats NZ introducing new methods to produce the dataset, including using data from alternative sources. Stats NZ and the 2018 Census External Data Quality Panel (EDQP) have produced a rating system to help the users understand the quality-related issues and impacts of the 2018 Census dataset.

EHI have decided to update the population statistics on this webpage, based on the documentation relating to these indicators. The Census variable of 'count of population - usually resident population' had an EDQP rating of 'very high' at the national, regional council, territorial authority and Auckland Council local board areas level [5]. Further information about the Stats NZ and EDQP documentation can be at:  https://www.stats.govt.nz/2018-census/data-quality-for-2018-census


1. Stats NZ. 2020. National population estimates: At 31 March 2020 - Infoshare tables. URL: https://www.stats.govt.nz/information-releases/national-population-estimates-at-31-march-2020-infoshare-tables (accessed 06/08/20).

2. The World Bank. 2020. Population density (people per sq. km of land area). URL: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.POP.DNST?end=2019&most_recent_value_desc=true&start=1961&view=chart (accessed 24/08/20). 

3. Kerr R. 1997. Population and immigration. Paper presented at the New Zealand Association for Migration and Investment Annual Conference, Auckland.

4. Briggs D. 1999. Environmental Health Indicators: Framework and methodologies. Geneva: World Health Organization.

5. EDQP. 2019. Initial Report of the 2018 Census External Data Quality Panel. URL: https://www.stats.govt.nz/reports/initial-report-of-the-2018-census-external-data-quality-panel (accessed 24/08/20).

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