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Ethnic Groups (Census 96) 1996


Numbers and proportions
Since 1986 there have been some significant changes in the ethnic make-up of the New Zealand population. The number of people who identify as European dropped from 81.2 percent to 71.7 percent between 1986 and 1996. At the same time, as both the number and proportion of people in the European ethnic group dropped, more people were recorded as belonging to the New Zealand Maori, Pacific Island and Asian ethnic groups. The proportion of people identifying as New Zealand Maori increased from 12.4 percent in 1986 to 14.5 percent in 1996. This reflects an increase of 118,593 people or 29.3 percent in the New Zealand Maori group since 1986. At the same time the total New Zealand population increased by 10.9 percent (2).

People belonging to Pacific Island ethnic groups now make up 4.8 percent of the New Zealand population, up from 3.7 percent in 1986. The Samoan group has had the biggest numerical increase growing by 24,477 people (41.3 percent) between 1986 and 1996 while the Tongan group had the biggest percentage increase, more than doubling in size from 11,841 in 1986 to 26,061 in 1996.

Some of the most rapid growth rates since 1986 have occurred amongst the Asian ethnic groups. People belonging to Asian ethnic groups made up 4.4 percent of the total population in 1996, up from 1.5 percent in 1986. The number of Koreans in New Zealand increased from only 426 in 1986 to 903 in 1991 to 12,657 in 1996. Despite this rapid growth, Koreans are still only 0.35 percent of the total population. The Filipino, Chinese, Japanese and Sri Lankan groups more than doubled over the same period. The Asian population as a whole increased by 95.9 percent between 1986 and 1991 and 70.8 percent between 1991 and 1996.

Figure 1

The increased ethnic diversity of the New Zealand population is also reflected in a drop in the proportion of people that reported that they belonged to only one ethnic group (tables 2c and 2d). The proportion of people reporting one ethnic group has fallen from 94.6 percent in 1986 to 81.0 percent in 1996. Over the same period, the proportion of people reporting two ethnic groups increased from 4.0 percent to 11.2 percent, while the proportion of people reporting three ethnic groups rose to 3.6 in 1996 from 0.3 in 1986 (2).

Age distribution
The median age for the total New Zealand population (half of all people are younger and half older than the median age) is 33 years. All of the European ethnic groups have median ages higher than this with the British/Irish group being the oldest at 47.8 years. The older age structure of the European groups in New Zealand is a reflection of the fact that many of their members migrated to New Zealand following the World War II and that their children possibly no longer identify with the ethnic group of their parents. Higher birth rates, larger proportions of people in the primary childbearing ages, and lower life expectancy are amongst the reasons that Pacific Island groups have younger populations. New Zealand Maori have a birth rate similar to the total population but larger proportions of people in the primary childbearing ages and lower life expectancy contribute to the group’s younger population. Tongans have the youngest median age for Pacific Island groups at 21.1 years while the median age for New Zealand Maori is 21.4 years. Fijians have the oldest median age amongst Pacific Island groups at 26 years. These low median ages are reflected in the relatively high proportion of children (aged under 15 years) in these ethnic groups and the low proportion of people older than 64 years. More than one-third of Pacific Island people in New Zealand are children while only 3.2 percent are aged 65 years or over. New Zealand Maori have a similar age distribution with 37.5 percent aged less than 15 years and only 3.0 percent aged 65 years or over.

Asian and ‘other’ groups also have younger populations than the European groups with median ages between 23.3 and 32.1 years. The Japanese have the lowest median age among Asian groups and Sri Lankans the oldest. Many Asians are recent migrants to New Zealand who tend to be concentrated in the young-adult age groups. More than half (57.6 percent) of Asians are aged 15-44 years while one-quarter (25.2 percent) are under 15 years and only 3.2 percent aged 65 years or over. In comparison, 45.4 percent of all New Zealanders are aged 15-44 years while 23.0 percent are children and 11.7 percent are aged 65 years or over.

Figure 2

Almost all (98.5 percent) people in the New Zealand Maori ethnic group were born in New Zealand. At the other end of the scale, only 3.2 percent of the Korean group were New Zealand born. Of all the groups listed in table 3a, only in the New Zealand European, Greek, New Zealand Maori, Samoan, Cook Island Maori, Niuean and Tokelauan groups are the majority of members New Zealand born. More than 80 percent of the members of the Australian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Korean, Japanese, Sri Lankan, African and Latin American groups were born overseas.

Overall, three-quarters of New Zealand’s population lives in the North Island, but some groups are far more likely to live there than others. More than 90 percent of Samoans, Cook Island Maori, Tongans, Niueans, Fijians, Tokelauans, Cambodians and Indians live in the North Island. New Zealand Europeans and Japanese have the lowest proportions in the North Island at 69 percent each.

Only the Greek, Polish and Tokelauan ethnic groups have a larger percentage of their population living in the Wellington region than in the Auckland region. On the other hand, more than 80 percent of Tongans and Niueans live in the Auckland region as do more than two-thirds of South Slavs, Samoans and Koreans.

New Zealand Europeans, Dutch, German and New Zealand Maori are the least urbanised groups in New Zealand. Even so, more than 8 in 10 people in these groups live in an urban area. Virtually all (more than 99 percent) Tokelauans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Koreans and Sri Lankans live in urban areas - mainly in main urban areas with populations of 30,000 people or more.

Although there has been growth in non-traditional religions in New Zealand in recent years, Christian denominations are still the most common. People in the Vietnamese, Cambodian, Japanese, Indian, Sri Lankan, ‘other Asian’ and Middle Eastern groups are more likely than other groups to belong to a non-Christian than Christian religion. For all but Indian and ‘other Asians’ of these groups, Buddhism is the most common religion. People belonging to Middle Eastern and African ethnic groups are the most likely to be Muslims along with those from ‘other Asian groups’ not individually listed in table 9a. Indians are more likely to be Hindu than any other religion. More than half of all Chinese and Japanese stated on their census forms that they did not belong to a religion compared with less than 6 percent of Samoans, Tongans, Tokelauans, Filipinos and Sri Lankans.

Families and households
The most common family type for all ethnic groups in New Zealand is couples with children. People in the British/Irish group were the least likely (48.9 percent) to live in a couple with children family and more likely than any other group to live in a couple only family (41.6 percent). This is most likely because this group has a relatively old age structure, so many couples will have children who have grown up and left home. Koreans were most likely to live in a couple-with-children family (87.0 percent).

New Zealand Maori, Pacific Island people, Vietnamese and Africans had the highest proportion of people living in one-parent families. More than one-quarter of all New Zealand Maori, Cook Island Maori and Niueans lived in one-parent families. People in the Australian group were most likely amongst Europeans to live in one-parent families (13.7 percent).

Less than 1 in 10 New Zealanders said that they lived in an extended family at the 1996 Census. However, more than 3 in 10 people from the Cambodian, Niuean, Samoan, Tokelauan and Tongan groups lived in extended families. Three generation extended families were the most common type.

One-family households were the most common household type for all ethnic groups, with Koreans (91.0 percent) most likely and Niueans (69.3 percent) least likely to live in a one-family household. One-fifth of Niueans lived in two-family households (this is reflected in the high proportion who lived in extended families) while 12.9 percent of British/Irish people lived in one-person households (this is most likely a reflection of the older age of this group).

Almost all (96.3 percent) New Zealand Europeans speak only one language, predominantly English. On the other hand, more than two-thirds of Filipinos and Japanese speak more than one language. Some 4.5 percent of New Zealanders speak Maori, an official language of New Zealand, while 25.2 percent of New Zealand Maori said that they do.

Koreans are the least likely of any group in New Zealand to speak English, with 40.7 percent not being able to hold a conversation in the language. There are noticeable differences between the ability of males and females to speak English in many groups with females usually being less likely to speak English than males. For example, in the Cambodian group 24.5 percent of males but 33.6 percent of females said that they could not speak English.

Figure 3

Smoking behaviour
Smoking is another area where there are large differences between ethnic groups and between men and women within ethnic groups. New Zealand Maori have the highest smoking rate of all groups at 43.7 percent with Tokelauans not far behind at 43.4 percent. Sri Lankans have the lowest smoking rate, with only 6.5 percent being current smokers. New Zealand Maori is the only group where women are more likely to smoke than men. The greatest difference between men and women is in the Vietnamese groups where 36.5 percent of men smoke compared with only 3.9 percent of women.

The educational qualifications of people in different ethnic groups in New Zealand vary widely. Almost two-thirds (64.0 percent) of Cambodians said that they had no formal educational qualifications at the 1996 Census compared with only 5.4 percent of Sri Lankans. Sri Lankans, at 40.8 percent, were more likely than people from other ethnic groups to have university qualifications . Filipinos, at 38.3 percent, also had a relatively high proportion with university qualifications. People from the New Zealand Maori, Samoan, Cook Island Maori, Tongan, Niuean, Tokelauan and Cambodian groups were least likely to have a university qualification, with less than 5 percent of people from each of these groups having a university qualification. These levels of educational attainment are reflected in both the occupations and income levels (tables 21 and 32) of these groups.

Employment and unemployment
A little under two-thirds (65.4 percent) of all New Zealanders aged 15 years or more said that they were either employed or were unemployed and looking for work at the 1996 Census. There was considerable variation in the level of labour force participation between ethnic groups, with 7 in 10 Australians, South Slavs, Fijians, Filipinos and Indians in the labour force compared with 5 in 10 Chinese and Japanese and less than 4 in 10 Koreans. In all ethnic groups men have higher levels of participation than women.

Unemployment rates are sometimes used as an indicator of the economic well-being of a population. The unemployment rate for all New Zealanders was 7.7 percent at the 1996 Census but varied markedly among ethnic groups. The highest unemployment rates were experienced by Vietnamese, Korean, Sri Lankan, Tokelauans and people from Middle Eastern groups, with rates varying between 20 and 30 percent. At the other end of the scale, only around 5 percent of New Zealand Europeans, British/Irish and Dutch said that they were unemployed.

Figure 4

Of all New Zealanders who were employed, 77.0 percent were paid employees. Samoans, Cook Island Maori, Tongans, Niueans and Tokelauans had the highest proportions working as paid employees (over 90 percent). Koreans were the most likely of all groups to be employers (13.3 percent) and to be self-employed without employees (31.3 percent).

Service and sales jobs are among the four most common jobs for all ethnic groups. Apart from this one similarity there is a broad split in the most common occupations between European and Asian ethnic groups and New Zealand Maori and Pacific Island ethnic groups. People from European and Asian groups are most likely to work in professional and white collar occupations while people from New Zealand Maori and Pacific Island groups are most likely to work in blue collar and unskilled occupations, for example, trades workers and plant and machine operators and assemblers. The Vietnamese and Cambodians are an exception to this general split with blue collar and unskilled jobs being more common.

Personal income
The median personal annual income (half have incomes below and half above this amount) for all New Zealanders aged 15 years and over was $15,600 in 1996. The figures in table 23a are based on the total adult population in each ethnic group whether or not they are in the labour force, and do not take account of differences in age structure and labour force participation rates between ethnic groups. These differences can have a significant impact on median incomes.

The New Zealand European, British/Irish, Australian and Italian groups are the only ones with median annual incomes over $16,000 while the Tongan, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Middle Eastern groups had median incomes under $10,000.

Access to a telephone
Almost 20 percent of Samoans, Tongans, and Tokelauans did not have access to a telephone in the house in which they usually lived at the time of the 1996 Census. This compares with an overall figure of under 5 percent for all New Zealanders. People in the Vietnamese and Cambodian groups were the least likely of the Asian groups to have access to a telephone at 6.9 and 7.9 percent without access, respectively. More than 95 percent of people in the other Asian and European groups had access to a telephone while 84.6 percent of New Zealand Maori did.

Figure 5

1. The figures in these highlights are drawn from the priority (a series) tables unless otherwise specified.
2. It should be noted that the format of the ethnic question changed between censuses. As a result the data are not strictly comparable over time.
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