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A new book on our population trends and the need to confront them - Massey Uni Press

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley is as close to a household name in New Zealand as a sociologist can get. As a preeminent commentator on population trends, he now provides us with a ‘wake-up’ call as a response to our rapidly growing and changing population and the demographic disruption that it is already causing.

In providing an extensive overview of New Zealand’s demography of past and present, he brings together statistics that show how a new and very different Aotearoa New Zealand is emerging. Most of the demographic change we are going through is unprecedented in this young country, and in human history in general. With more boomers, fewer children, an ever bigger Auckland and declining regions, the structure of the New Zealand population is changing to such a degree that much of what we have put in place by way of policy or the provision of amenities and services is simply no longer appropriate or adequate.

While the book was in progress this year, New Zealand’s population reached five million people, far more quickly than anyone had predicted. If those growth trends continue, how long until we are at six million? And just as the book reached its final stages we were hit by Covid-19 and the lockdown. Global mobility has come to a grinding halt and is unlikely to resume any time soon, or certainly not to the same levels. What will that mean for New Zealand given that for many decades now we have needed immigrants to drive the economy?

The New New Zealand is not just a wake-up call, but also call to action.

As Paul Spoonley says ‘We know what is coming in terms of demographic change but as a society, we seem reluctant to adjust how we think and act about some of the challenges that this change means for New Zealand. A "for instance" would be

superannuation. We must talk about the age of superannuation eligibility or who gets superannuation. The ageing of New Zealand and what it means should not be a surprise to anyone. The other is that the nature of demographic change means that we really must develop new policies - where is this policy innovation going to come from? Who is going to lead this innovation? Or are we going to end up looking like Japan and Germany, with all of the challenges they now face?’

‘It troubles me that politicians and policy makers are reluctant to consider very different policy options. But they need to! A few years ago, after an earlier book, Rebooting the Regions, I spent some time talking to local authorities and economic development agencies around New Zealand. It struck me how committed many were to a New Zealand that is disappearing (or has disappeared) rather than confronting the often challenging aspects of their community structure and population. There are some exceptions - good on them - but many are backward looking. They were more keen to talk about how dysfunctional Auckland had become and how they were seeing Aucklanders flock to their area, rather than the fact that they were facing population stagnation or decline, how they were seeing declining fertility and young adult outmigration, and migrants did not stay. We need some demographic realism and policy innovation.’

This book provides the data and analysis we need to move forward.

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