As we discussed last week, the current pandemic is going to have some fairly large repercussions on migration flows around the world. Borders have been locked down and quarantines have been set up. Even when those borders start to reopen I would imagine that many will be wary of travelling if there is a chance of being stuck somewhere and having lockdowns implemented again.

More fundamentally, there will be long-term pain for most of the world. This will probably mean that economic migrants will both be less attracted to many traditional migration destinations, but also that those destinations will be less welcoming of largescale migration. In turn this will have an impact on many countries that have relied upon migration for population growth in recent years.

New Zealand is not yet in that position. Although it has not had a replacement total fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman for eight years or so now, for the last thirty years the TFR has remained at a relatively robust level of around 2. It has only been in the last five years that this rate has really dropped – it is currently sitting at around 1.7.

But while the average Kiwi woman is having fewer children in her lifetime, there is still a reasonable buffer between the number of deaths and births each year: about 25,000 more of the latter than the former. This has meant that the population is still steadily increasing naturally.

However, immigration is still very important for New Zealand’s population growth. In recent years well over half of our population growth is due to net migration, for example in 2017 our country’s natural increase was just over 26,000, but our growth due to net immigration was over 70,000 people. This relatively largescale migration has led to New Zealand having one of the largest foreign-born populations in the world (as a proportion).

It has also helped us to hit a milestone recently. In March sometime, the New Zealand population hit five million people. This was only 17 years after the four million mark was reached in 2003 and barely a century since we hit one million people. (As an aside, I am constantly astonished that in the First World War over 10 percent of New Zealand’s total population — just over 100,000 young men and women — served overseas.)

This quick population growth has put a large strain upon our infrastructure, particularly the price of housing and traffic in Auckland, our largest city. This will continue as demographers predict that around 40 per cent of the country’s population will live in Auckland in the upcoming years. (As a denizen of Auckland, I can understand the attraction of living here. Aside from the job opportunities, it is a pretty stunning city to live in. It has beaches, views and good weather.)

There are also predictions that the next million milestone will take a bit longer to reach: the six million population is not expected to be hit until the 2040s.

However, in the aftermath of the pandemic, I very much doubt that the current migration levels will continue. Our birth rates will continue to decline, our elderly will start dying off in larger numbers and the next few years will probably see economic migration dry up. In short, I think that our population growth is going to slow right down. At the same time as we are racking up a huge amount of government debt.

Nothing could go wrong. Right? 

Marcus Roberts

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...