Population projections are what they aren’t

Wednesday October 10, 2012 Jason Leung-Wai

SNZ has released its latest population projections, which sees pockets of growth in Auckland, Tauranga, Selwyn and Queenstown. The rest of the country has tepid growth, while the Central North Island sees population decline.


The question has been asked, “Is this a realistic projection?” A more appropriate question is “is this what we want for our region or our country?” This is because a projection is just that - a projection of some point in the future. As a region or a country we therefore need to understand that population projections are not a given, and they do not consider what could happen in the future.


The method for identifying population change is based on the age of your population, which determines births and deaths; and internal and external migration, which is the movement of people in and out of your region or country. The methodology is largely historically based; the major variable being the likely change in migration at a national and regional level. Changes in births and deaths are a slow process, determined by population age and the health system.


So what we need to make a decision about is, what this might mean for our country and then whether we are comfortable with the projections. As a country can we survive in a global environment with a population of 5.5 million people? Do we want to? As a city, can we handle or do we want a population of 2 million people. Conversely, as a region can we handle a declining population?


Maybe. Maybe not. Population size has a major influence on the economic well-being of a region and nation – positively and negatively. Therefore, it should not be something that is a given or just accepted.


Population size is a choice. There are things you can do to increase your population. There are also things you can do to limit or decrease your population. Often this choice is made for you. But not because of SNZ’s population projections but because of what you do to attract, retain and support

your people.


Any nation or region that accepts population projections as a given, and plans their economy based on that projection, is not interested in improving the well-being of their population.


As a nation or region you should identify what the optimal population size is/should/could be and then plan to achieve that size.


• Once you know this optimal size, put in place plans based on this rather than projections.

• Target inward and outward migration as this has the biggest effect.

• Target young people as this will result in incremental growth, a bit like compound interest.


Population projections should give you an idea of what your population size will be if you do nothing. If you are serious about economic well-being you need to decide whether you do nothing.



Colour coded map of New Zealand showing average projected populartion change