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Executive Summary Report

MĀori in the New Zealand labour market


When analysing Māori labour market outcomes, it is important to first look at key demographic factors that determine the available labour supply. Understanding the regional distribution of Māori across New Zealand and how this has changed in recent years informs potential labour supply issues. Some regions have fewer job prospects than others, for instance, and many of these are home to large pockets of the Māori population. Māori also migrate more regularly within the country than other groups, as migration data reveals, and many head across the Tasman for work, taking with them valuable skills and experience.

The comparatively younger age profile of Māori has implications for educational and training needs. The Māori population is also growing quickly, meaning there will be a larger Māori workforce in the future, which is discussed in more detail in Section 7.

This section examines several important characteristics of the Māori population, beginning with a look at population distribution. An examination of the age profile and population growth estimates follows. Māori migration patterns, both within New Zealand and to Australia, are outlined. The labour market implications of these findings are then discussed.

2.1 Regional distribution

According to the 2006 Population Census, there were 565,300 people who identified as having Māori ethnicity, equivalent to 14% of New Zealand's total population. Table 1 shows how the Māori population is distributed by region, and the growth between 2001 and 2006. The large majority of Māori (87%) live in the North Island, particularly in the regions of Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty. However, the highest rates of population growth have been in the South Island, in the regions of Canterbury and Otago, two regions with traditionally small Māori populations.

Table 1: Māori population distribution and growth by region, 2001-2006

    2006 Share of all Māori Growth 2001-2006
  Region Male Female (%) (%)
  Northland 20,973 22,554 8 6.9
  Auckland 65,823 71,310 24 7.4
  Waikato 37,305 39,267 14 5.1
  Bay of Plenty 32,700 34,962 12 6.3
  Gisborne 9,468 10,290 3 2
  Hawke's Bay 16,125 17,430 6 4.6
  Taranaki 8,004 7,794 3 8.5
  Manawatu-Wanganui 20,706 21,579 7 7.7
  Wellington 26,742 28,692 10 8.4
North Island 237,846 253,878 87 6.6
  Tasman 1,539 1,527 1 10.3
  Nelson 1,758 1,854 1 12.3
  Marlborough 2,127 2,151 1 9.8
  West Coast 1,464 1,455 1 14.5
  Canterbury 18,453 18,216 6 15.9
  Otago 6,186 6,084 2 16.4
  Southland 5,280 5,139 2 3.8
South Island 36,807 36,426 13 13.3
Total New Zealand





Source: 2006 Census of Population and Dwellings, Statistics New Zealand.

Chart 6 shows the relative concentration of Māori in each territorial authority throughout New Zealand. The lowest proportion of Māori was located in Wellington and Auckland cities, Rodney, Waitakere City, the Kapiti Coast and most of the South Island. In contrast, the highest share of Māori was found in Gisborne, eastern Bay of Plenty, Far North, Waitamo and Ruapehu. Māori represented a relatively high proportion of the population through the central North Island and the Northland region. More than half the population in the areas of Kawerau, Wairoa and Opotiki were Māori. Māori are over-represented in many centres where one industry is responsible for 10% or more of employment, which makes them more vulnerable in times of recession.

Chart 6: Proportion of the Māori population by territorial authority, 2006

Source: 2006 Census of Population and Dwellings, Statistics New Zealand.

Data table for Chart 6

2.2 Māori age profile

Māori have a younger age profile compared with the rest of the New Zealand population, due in part to a higher birth rate. According to the 2006 Population Census, over half (53%) of Māori were younger than 25 years of age, compared with just over a third (36%) of the total New Zealand population.

Chart 7 illustrates the different age profile of Māori compared with the total population. There were significantly higher proportions of Māori aged under 20 years. The age profiles of Māori and non-Māori were quite similar in the age bands from 20 through to 49 years. It is in the over 50 year age group that Māori are under-represented, with only 6% of Māori aged over 60 years compared with 17% of the total population. This significant demographic difference means Māori are more likely to still be in school or in training, compared with the broader population. Over the next twenty years, many more Māori will also enter the workforce.

Chart 7: Māori age distribution, 2006

Source: 2006 Census of Population and Dwellings, Statistics New Zealand

Data table for Chart 7

2.3 Population growth

2.3.1 Population projections to 2021

The Māori population is projected to grow at an annual average rate of 1.4% over the period 2006-21.[21] This is higher than the projected growth rate for Europeans (0.4%) over the same period, but lower than the projected growth for Pacific peoples (2.5%) and for Asians (3.7%). By region, the highest projected rates of average annual growth for Māori are in Nelson (2.4%), Canterbury (2.2%), Otago (1.8%) and Auckland (1.7%). By 2021, Māori are projected to represent around 16% of the New Zealand population.

The age group distributions for each ethnic group in 2006, and projected age group distributions for 2021, are summarised in Table 2. In 2006 the median age for Māori (22.9 years) was nearly 13 years younger than the median age for all New Zealanders (35.8 years). The median age of Māori is projected to increase by 2021 to 24.6 years, but this would be more than 14 years younger than the projected median age for all New Zealanders (38.8 years old). The age distribution of Māori is projected to shift slightly towards the older age-groups by 2021, but the difference in age distribution between Māori and the older European population is projected to increase as the European population will age faster than Māori.

Table 2: Projected age group distribution of ethnic populations, 2006 (base) -2021

Ethnic group Projected age group (years) distribution of ethnic populations (percent) Median age
0-14 15-39 40-64 65+ All ages
2006 (base)
European or Other 20% 32% 33% 14% 100% 38.3
Māori 34% 39% 22% 4% 100% 22.9
Asian 21% 48% 27% 5% 100% 28.5
Pacific 37% 40% 20% 4% 100% 21.7
Total 21% 35% 32% 12% 100% 35.8
European or Other 18% 29% 32% 20% 100% 42.2
Māori 34% 35% 23% 7% 100% 24.6
Asian 22% 39% 30% 9% 100% 34.5
Pacific 36% 37% 21% 6% 100% 22.7







Note: Due to rounding, the percentages for each age group may not always sum to 100%.

Source: Subnational Ethnic Population Projections, Statistics New Zealand

2.3.1 Māori fertility rates

The total fertility rate for Māori women in the March 2009 year was 2.96 births per woman, up from 2.87 in 2008 and 2.60 in 1999, and well above the rate for the total population (2.18 births per woman). Māori women giving birth tend to be younger, with a median age of 26 years in the March 2009 year. The median age for Pacific, Asian and European women was 27, 30 and 31 years, respectively.[22] In terms of labour market outcomes, this means comparatively more Māori women are out of the labour force and often for longer periods at younger ages. It is often the work experience gained at younger ages that determines career development the most. Being out of the labour force during these years is likely to hamper employment opportunities in later years.

2.4 Māori migration

One significant feature of the Māori population is its high degree of mobility. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Māori moved addresses in the five years between 2001 and 2006, as shown in table 3.[23] This is due to the younger age structure of Māori, and the fact that younger age groups (particularly those aged 20-39 years) tend to have the highest migration rates. This reflects a trend of increasing Māori mobility. Twenty years earlier, in the five year period 1981-86, under half of Māori (48%) had moved in the previous five years. The total New Zealand population has also become more mobile, due to improved economic conditions and employment opportunities.[24]

Table 3: Māori Migration behaviour, 2001-2006

  Male Female Total
Non-movers 86,316 90,819 177,135
Moved within New Zealand 135,453 150,765 286,221
Moved to New Zealand from overseas 5,706 5,610 11,316
Not Born Five Years Ago 34,071 32,352 66,423
Not Stated 13,314 10,920 24,234




Source: 2006 Census of Population and Dwellings, Statistics New Zealand

Most migration occurs within a region, but Māori were also more likely than other groups to move between regions. Auckland lost 13% of its Māori population between 2001-06 due to migration to other regions, but gained 14% of its Māori population from inward migration from other regions. The net inter-regional flows were most positive for the Otago, Canterbury and Waikato regions. The migration flows in and out of each region are shown in Chart 8. The main urban areas gained more Māori migrants than they lost to other areas. The majority of this net gain was due to flows between minor urban areas and main urban areas.

An increasing number of Māori were born overseas, or returned to New Zealand after a period of living abroad. About 2.4% of Māori in the 2006 Census of Population and Dwellings who were aged over five and provided their address five years ago lived overseas in 2001. This is still a much lower rate than for the total New Zealand population (9.4%) who were living overseas in 2001. The large majority of Māori who came from overseas were living in main urban areas.

Chart 8: Māori inter-regional migration, 2001-2006

Source: 2006 Census of Population and Dwellings, Statistics New Zealand

Data table for Chart 8

2.4.1 Migration motivations within New Zealand

Statistics New Zealand also measures migration through their 'Survey of Dynamics and Motivation for Migration in New Zealand'. Table 4 shows the main reasons, by ethnicity, for choosing to move to the current residence for persons who moved in the two years prior to the survey.

Social factors, such as wanting to live with or close to family, were the main reason for recent Māori moves. This was followed by economic factors. Europeans, by contrast, were most commonly motivated to move to their current residence by environmental factors such as availability of services, the local area and quality of life.

Table 4: Main reasons for moving to current residence by ethnic group, 2007

Ethnicity Most common reason ranked
1st 2nd 3rd
European Environment Social Economic
Māori Social Economic Housing
Pacific Social Economic Environment
Other Education Environment Employment

Source: Survey of Dynamics and Motivation for Migration in New Zealand: March 2007 quarter, Statistics New Zealand.

2.4.2 Māori migration to Australia

The 2006 Australian Census of Population and Housing revealed that 92,912 people stated Māori ancestry amongst their first two ancestry responses.[25] A Te Puni Kōkiri report in 2007 provides additional information on why Māori move to Australia and their experiences there.[26] The report suggests that, due to under-reporting, the true figure may be at least 10% higher, or around 100,000 people.

The report found that Māori migrate to Australia primarily for economic reasons. In the Te Puni Kōkiri survey sample of 1,205 Māori living in Australia, most Māori moved there in years when the Australian economy was doing relatively well compared with New Zealand's. Over half (60%) of the sample said they had moved to Australia to get a better job, or for the chance to get better work. Joining family already in Australia was a reason for just over one-third of migrants.

According to the 2001 Australian Census of Population and Housing, Māori represented 14% of the New Zealand-born population in Australia.[27] The age-structure of Māori living in Australia was concentrated in the 15-44 years age range, with this group making up 54% of the Māori population in Australia compared with 46% in New Zealand. Because migration is more common for young adults, New Zealand may primarily be losing Māori who have quite recently entered the labour force.

Two-thirds (65%) of Māori aged 15 years and over in Australia were employed, compared with only 54% in New Zealand. This suggests that those who left for better job opportunities had experienced success.

Nearly 87% of survey respondents in the report said their employment was either "much better" or "a bit better" since moving to Australia. There were high concentrations of Māori in shearing, mining, construction and security. Other common roles included machine operating, labouring and clerical work. It was not uncommon for Māori to say they had doubled their salary since moving to Australia, particularly for those moving from the lowest paid jobs in New Zealand. They tended to be doing the same work they had done in New Zealand, but for significantly more money.

It is important that New Zealand's labour market remains competitive and offers opportunities to encourage Māori to continue to work in New Zealand, as well as aiming to attract these Māori back to New Zealand.

2.5 Discussion

Around one in seven New Zealanders (or 14%) were Māori, according to the 2006 Census of Population and Dwellings. The Māori population is projected to grow more quickly than the European population over the period 2006-21. As Māori are projected to represent a bigger share of the population over time it will become increasing important to improve Māori labour market outcomes.

Māori have a young age structure compared with the total New Zealand population, which is projected to continue. This means that a relatively high proportion of Māori is still in education, while a relatively low proportion is aged over 65 years.

As the total New Zealand population ages, with the numbers aged over 65 years set to increase significantly, Māori will be increasingly important segment of the labour market, and so there is a need to maximise the potential of young Māori as they enter the labour market. This is important as New Zealand has relatively low labour productivity. The government has announced a target of matching Australia's productivity by 2025. For this to occur, New Zealand's labour force will need to be increasingly skilled, which will require an increasing involvement by and reliance on Māori.

Youth are particularly vulnerable during the economic downturn due to their relatively low skill levels and lack of work experience. The younger age profile of Māori means that the impact of youth labour market disengagement hits harder, as discussed in Section 6.

The movement of Māori youth to study in the major centres brings with it many benefits. The acquisition of skills and knowledge can help ensure successful labour market outcomes for the individual concerned. However, for some regions and iwi the consequences of youth leaving to study can be costly, as skills shortages hinder social and economic development.

All too often the best students who leave to study do not return. Greater opportunities exist in larger centres. Consequently, efforts to entice educated youth to return to their home regions should be encouraged, provided appropriate job opportunities exist. One good example is Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Porou, which has visited all universities and met with their students (predominantly from Gisborne) to inform them about local developments in Gisborne, the skills the region requires and potential careers in the region.

Some of the areas where Māori represent a relatively high share of the population are heavily reliant on one industry. One example is around Gisborne, where over 20% of employment is in the 'sheep, beef cattle and grain farming' industry. The 'dairy cattle farming' and 'fruit and nut tree growing' industries account for over 20% of employment in some parts of Rotorua and eastern Bay of Plenty.

While these are not at-risk industries in the current economic climate, there are areas which are vulnerable to a downturn in their key industry, putting the employment of local employment at risk. Many of these industries produce commodities which by nature tend to be susceptible to price changes and drought. The Māori population is also more concentrated in more rural and northern areas where labour force participation is lower and unemployment is higher.

Around 100,000 Māori are now living in Australia, with the majority having moved there to take advantage of better employment opportunities and higher pay. Māori in Australia overwhelmingly report that they have found better employment and enjoy a reputation of being hard-working and reliable. From a labour market perspective, valuable skills and experience are lost. If Māori can be attracted back home, then the work experience gained in Australia will be invaluable in the labour market. The Hui Taumata Trust's linkages with networking website Kea New Zealand[28] to build better business and employment networks with Māori living overseas is a positive step in this regard. While more concrete actions may be required to achieve this, the economic downturn may well help reverse this labour flow over the next 12 months.

[21] All population projections are sourced from the Subnational Ethnic Population Projections, produced by Statistics New Zealand. The medium series of projections have been used in each case (Statistics NZ also produce a high and low series).

[22] (Retrieved on 30 June 2009).

[23] The figure of 63% is calculated by summing those Māori who have moved, and dividing this by total Māori minus ‘not stated’ and ‘not born five years ago’.

[24] Material on Māori migration has been sourced from the Statistics New Zealand paper “Māori mobility in New Zealand”, which analyses results from the Censuses over the period 1986 to 2006:

[25] For more, see (Retrieved on 1 July 2009).

[26] The full “Māori in Australia” report and a summary are available on the Te Puni Kōkiri website:–print/our–publications/fact–sheets/Mäori–in–aus/?q=australia (Retrieved on 3 July 2009).

[27] The Te Puni Kōkiri report, “Māori in Australia”, was released shortly before the 2006 Australian census results became available so it mostly refers to results from the 2001 census.

[28]Kea New Zealand is a business networking website that links New Zealanders all around the world. For more, see, (Retrieved on 17 November 2009).