Drop in birth rate may lead to smaller New Zealand population - analyst

4:05 pm on 18 February 2021

A statistician says New Zealand's record low number of births is a sign of a growing trend.

Mother hand holding and playing with newborn baby,

In 2020, there were 57,753 births registered, down 3 percent from the previous year. (file pic) Photo: 123RF

New data from Stats NZ shows the country's women are averaging 1.6 births over their lifetime - well below the population replacement rate of 2.1.

Stats NZ insights analyst Rebekah Hennessey said the drop was being driven by a decrease in overall births and an increase in the number of women of reproductive age.

In 2020, there were 57,753 births registered, down 3 percent from the previous year, while there was a 2 percent increase in the number of women aged 15-49 years. Most babies born in 2020 were conceived before New Zealand moved to Covid-19 alert level 4 in March last year, the report said.

"In the long term, we will end up with a lower natural increase - which is the number of births minus the number of deaths - which could lead to a population decrease," Hennessey said.

Births were relatively stable between 1980 and 2012, but had generally decreased since then, she said.

"There is the chance [the rate] could increase, but we expect it will probably stay around that 1.65 mark for a while."

Meanwhile, the number of deaths had dropped 5 percent to 32,613.

Annual deaths were gradually increasing over time - despite increasing life expectancy - because of general population growth and more people entering old age.

The report said the latest fall coincided with lockdown restrictions as a result of the pandemic, with alert level restrictions, stay-at-home orders, limits on travel, and increased hygiene awareness potentially playing a role in the reduced number of deaths.

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