Volume 70 1961 > Volume 70, No. 1 > Some demographic indications of population movement among New Zealand Maoris, by Gabrielle M. Maxwell, p 31-42
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In this article Mrs. Maxwell, a graduate of the School of Social Science at the Victoria University of Wellington, anlayses recent census data in order to discover the principal characteristics of Maori population movement in New Zealand.


THIS PAPER is an attempt to examine how far statements about internal population movement in New Zealand, particularly among the Maori population, can be justified from the available demographic information. The first part of this paper describes briefly the differences in the total Maori and non-Maori populations. This is followed by a discussion of urbanisation in New Zealand, with an attempt to assess the extent to which Maori urban population increases are due to population movement. The paper then attempts to show in what categories of age, sex and area, migration is most likely to have occurred. Finally, the paper compares the distribution of the Maori and Pakeha populations between rural and urban areas.


The figure used in compiling the Maori population pyramids and index number graphs have been obtained from the Department of Statistics and have not been published. The urban area figures refer to the Census classification of urban areas. The borough figures include all boroughs and town districts which do not fall within urban areas. The figures for counties refer to all counties and parts of counties excluding those parts of counties which fall inside urban areas. The actual geographical boundaries of the divisions differ for the 1951 and 1956 figures, as the 1951 figures are based on the 1951 classification of areas and the 1956 figures on the revised 1956 classification. However, the classification changes involved relatively few of the population and chiefly areas which became built up between 1951 and 1956.

The figures used for non-Maoris are not directly comparable with the Maori figures. The non-Maori population pyramids and index number graphs have been derived by subtracting Maori from total - 32 population figures given in published Census volumes. 1 As published material gives less detail of Maori ages than the unpublished material used for Maori figures, the non-Maori figures are less detailed. Also, owing to the limitations of the published material, city figures refer to population inside city boundaries which are narrower than urban area boundaries, borough figures refer to all boroughs and town districts, while rural figures refer to all counties not excluding those parts of counties within urban areas and extra-county islands. As new building areas which tend to contain the young marrieds are generally on city outskirts, and hence not within city boundaries, some bias may be present in the non-Maori figures which has been excluded from the Maori figures. However, as the non-Maori material was considered less important, and any bias is probably slight, the extra time and difficulty which would have been involved in extracting more accurate figures from unpublished census data was not considered to be warranted.

The methods used have been the standard demographic techniques of examining fertility ratios, mortality, sex ratios, and population pyramids. These methods have been described by Spiegelman 2 among others. Some variations in standard practice have been explained by the use of footnotes. In addition, index number graphs after Franklin 3 have been used. These graphs indicate the relative importance of each age group in a sub-group of a population as compared with the total population. The index number is obtained by taking the percentage in the population sub-group as a proportion of the percentage in the total population and multiplying by 100. Thus, when the sub-groups are plotted, the straight line indicating index number 100 represents the total population concerned. Curves have not been fitted to data on the sub-groups in these graphs, which have been used for illustrative purposes only. It should also be noted that where the sub-group forms only a small part of the total population, for instance borough populations, then more variation from the base number 100 can be expected than where the sub-group is relatively large, for instance the non-Maori urban population and the Maori rural population. By the same token where an age group includes few people variations from the base number of 100 can be expected to be greater, as with the older age groups of the Maori population, than in other age groups.


Compared with the non-Maori, the Maori population of New Zealand has a high birth rate, a high fertility rate and high mortality (Table 1) with the result that the population has a very high proportion of young people and relatively few older people (Table 2).

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Rate Maori population Non-Maori population
Birth (live births per 1000 mean population) 44.6 24.7
Mortality 1 (deaths per 1000 mean population) 9.4 9.0
Natural Increase (per 1000 mean population) 35.3 15.7
Fertility (live births per 1000 women 16 and under 45 years) 217.9 124.1
1   Because of the large proportion of the Maori population in age groups where death risk is slight, the difference in mortality of Maori and non-Maori population is minimised by these figures (Borrie 1959). If the death rate in each age group of the non-Maori population appied to the Maori population, the total Maori death rate would only be 3.7 per 1,000.
Age group in years Maori population Non-Maori population
Under 5 19.2% 11.3%
5 and under 15 27.9 19.1
15 and under 20 10.5 6.9
20 and under 45 30.9 33.6
45 and under 60 7.9 15.8
60 and over 3.6 13.3
Totals 100.0% 100.0%

On the other hand, the age structure of the non-Maori population is much more homogeneous. The effects of the depression and the early war years on fertility are the chief features detracting from the uniformity of the population pyramid, although such effects cannot be observed readily among the Maori population (Figure 1).

More detailed comparisons of the age and sex structure of the Maori and non-Maori populations have been made by Borrie 4 and by the Department of Statistics. 5

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New Zealand is a highly urbanised country. In 1956, 55.1% of the total population lived in cities of 20,000 or more persons. In 1951, when this figure was only 49.3%, New Zealand ranked fifth highest in the world among urbanised countries. 6

Only 16.6% of the Maori population lived in cities over 20,000 in 1956 and 76.2% of the Maori population lived in rural areas. Thus the Maori is primarily a rural dweller.

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Maori: 1926 1936 1945 1951 1956
Rural 91.0 90.4 83.8 81.1 76.2
Urban 8.7 9.4 16.0 18.7 23.6
Other .3 .2 .2 .2 .2
Rural 41.0 40.3 36.8 35.8 34.5
Urban 58.4 59.3 62.9 63.8 65.2
Other .6 .4 .3 .5 .4

Since 1926 there has been a steady increase in the proportion of urban Maoris and the percentage increase seems to have stabilised at approximately 12 times the non-Maori percentage increase (Table 4). Further discussion of urbanisation among the Maoris can be obtained from Borrie 8 and Metge. 9

  1926-36 1936-45 10 1945-51 1951-56
Maori +8.43 +69.97 +16.92 +26.42
Non-Maori +1.54 +6.07 +1.40 +2.24
Ratio of Maori: Non-Maori        
percentage increase 5.47:1 11.53:1 12.09:1 11.79:1

The extent to which the intercensal percentage increase in urban areas reflects population movement rather than natural increase will depend on relative fertility, mortality and the proportionate representation of reproducing females in urban and rural areas. The natural increase rate may be greater in urban than rural areas if, despite a higher fertility rate in rural areas, reproductive age females are under-represented in rural areas and/or mortality is higher in rural areas.

Among the Maori population there is a higher fertility rate 11 in rural areas (24.8) than in boroughs (19.4) or urban areas (14.4), but, on the whole, females in the reproductive age groups are under-represented in rural areas. Females 15-44 years of age comprise only 19.6% of rural population, as compared with 20.4% in boroughs and 25.7% in cities.

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As a large proportion of the rural population are in the very old or infant age groups, which are the age groups in which mortality is highest, mortality will be higher in rural than borough or urban areas.

A study conducted by the Department of Health 12 compared a sample of Maori births surviving the first year of life with a sample who failed to survive. Among the births surviving infancy 28.6% were living in built-up areas other than pas, while of those failing to survive 18.3% were living in built-up areas other than pas. The difference between these two percentages gives a t score of 2.2. Thus it seems probable at the 3% level of confidence that infant mortality among Maoris is higher in rural areas. As infant mortality accounted for approximately ¼ of total Maori deaths in 1956 actual mortality in rural areas will be even higher than estimates based on age suggest. In addition it can be suggested that in general Maoris in rural areas have poorer health and sanitation facilities, which would lead to higher mortality.

Thus natural increase is probably very similar in rural and urban areas, and hence the actual increases in the urban population compared with the rural population are probably a realistic indication of the net population movement from rural to city areas.


In 1956 the rural Maori population was a population of the old and the young males and females, compared with the total Maori population (Figure 2). The comparative deficit in the 15-39 year age group is marked, particularly among females. Considering the comparative deficit of reproductive age females the high proportion of young children (Table 5) is most striking. Compared with the 1951 pattern, the 1956 pattern seems only a slightly exaggerated version, except that, as could be expected, the birth rate shows a slight decrease compared with the total Maori birth rate. Thus it is possible to state with a fair degree of confidence that the difference between the rural and total Maori adult populations are due chiefly to migration, rather than to an unusual pattern of fertility over the past years.

In 1956 the urban Maori population has an age structure which is almost the exact reverse of the rural pattern when both patterns are compared with the total Maori population. In urban areas there is an excess of those in the 15-39 year age group, a pattern which is very pronounced among males and even more so among females. A comparison with the 1951 figures shows that in 1951 the pattern of few young children, a comparative excess of 15-39 year olds and relatively few older people, was, although similar, exaggerated except in the older adult age groups. Since 1951 there has been a proportionate increase in very young children and a decrease in excessive over-representation of people aged from 15 to 39 years. This latter is not due to a decrease in numbers but rather to a greater building up of numbers in the other age groups. If these trends continue in future years the disparities between the age distribution in cities compared with the total Maori - 37 population will tend to be gradually reduced. However, in some areas there has been a numerical decrease in the 15-39 age group which is greater than could be accounted for by deaths indicating that there has probably been movement out of urban areas even among the age groups which appear to be entering the urban areas.

MAORI REGIONAL VARIATIONS, (using index number graphs, after Franklin)

In 1956 the male borough Maori population shows a pattern of age distribution which is very different from the pattern shown by females and thus must be described separately. The male age distribution pattern in boroughs seems to be intermediate to the pattern shown in urban areas and rural areas. The boroughs show a deficit of young children compared with the total population which is, however, not as marked as the deficit in urban areas. Nevertheless, the number of births in boroughs in the last decade is much the same as would be expected when compared with the number of births in the total population. There are rather more 30-39 year olds than could be expected and fewer 5-14 years olds and 45-69 year olds. Compared with the 1951 pattern, however, there are indications that the differences between the borough and total Maori populations are becoming less marked.

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In 1956 the female borough Maori population, as in urban areas, has a much greater proportionate number of 15-39 year olds than could be accounted for by past variations in fertility in the borough population. Thus the boroughs seem to have attracted a large number of young adult females from other areas. In all age groups, except those over 74 and under 15, the females are in excess of the number expected, although this trend is not nearly so marked in age groups over 39. Compared with 1951, the females between 15 and 39 years have decreased proportionately. As with the males, differences between borough and total female populations seem to have diminished in 1956.

Thus analysis of age distributions of the Maori urban, rural and borough populations bears out observations from such diverse sources as the Maori Affairs Department and the daily newspapers. The analysis indicates that most of the migration probably occurs after the age of 15 and before 30. It is also suggested that a certain amount of concealed migration occurs as young and middle-aged Maoris leave the cities. The extent to which this reversal of the usual trend is occurring cannot be suggested in this paper, although some indication of the numbers involved and the reasons for movement out of the cities is obviously of importance.

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One cannot assume that the same pattern of population movement has occurred equally in all areas, because the age distribution of the Maori population in various counties, urban areas and boroughs differs widely. Whereas most of the North Auckland counties show a greater deficit of young male adults, the central South Auckland counties show an excess of young male adults compared with the total county population. Similary, Auckland urban area has a greater excess of young male adults than Gisborne.


More detailed comparisons of small areal differentiation in demographic pattern have been attempted, but, owing to the small numbers involved, the significance of differences is not great. In addition, the value of continued areal analysis to establish significant regional differences is probably limited unless accompanied by field investigation.

The major point which has been established, however, is that it would be a mistake to assume that the total counties, urban areas and - 40 boroughs patterns are an adequate guide to the likely age and sex distribution of people in any particular region. The total picture is undoubtedly a composite of many different patterns which are probably allied to such social factors as land-use, employment opportunities and social customs and attitudes which give each region of New Zealand a unique social character.


Maori Population:

  Rural Boroughs Urban Areas Total
Fertility ratio 13 A 24.8 (119.4) 19.4 (74.7) 14.4 (54.4) 21.7 (98.2)
Fertility ratio B 40.8 (195.9) 37.9 (146.2) 29.5 (111.7) 38.3 (173.0)
Sex ratio 14 92.4 110.3 102.6 95.7
% 15 under 5 20.27 18.22 14.77 19.11
% 10 & under 15 30.15 24.24 20.09 27.82
  M. F. M. F. M. F. M. F.
% 15 & under 25 7.71 8.93 13.25 9.11 15.28 12.92 9.57 9.66
% 25 & under 45 10.35 10.65 12.47 11.25 13.21 12.73 11.05 11.07
% 45 & under 65 4.14 5.13 4.41 4.61 4.16 4.97 4.17 5.05
% 65 & over 1.12 1.39 1.09 1.19 .84 .85 1.06 1.27

Non-Maori Population:

  Counties Boroughs Cities Total
Fertility ratio1 A 75.8 53.4 50.6 59.1
Fertility ratio B 103.8 80.8 71.9 83.4
Sex ratio2 88.1 109.6 105.5 99.1
%3 under 5 13.90 9.86 9.98 11.30
% 10 & under 15 20.92 20.85 17.85 19.07
  M. F. M. F. M. F. M. F.
% 15 & under 25 7.28 5.66 5.23 7.34 6.32 6.07 6.63 6.38
% 25 & under 45 15.10 13.40 11.66 12.20 13.46 13.89 13.95 13.75
% 45 & under 65 9.05 7.67 10.22 10.69 10.01 10.91 9.70 9.76
% 65 & over 3.70 3.26 5.49 6.40 4.66 6.11 4.40 5.15
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The non-Maori pattern of age distribution in urban, borough and rural areas (Figure 4) is strikingly different from the pattern shown by the Maori population.

NON-MAORI REGIONAL VARIATIONS, (using index number graphs, after Franklin)

Whereas there are relatively few young Maori males in rural areas, a greater proportion of young non-Maori males are to be found there than in any other area. On the other hand, a comparatively high proportion of young Maori males lives in urban areas as compared with a relatively low proportion of young non-Maori males. These are perhaps the major differences which call for comment.

The female differences, while important in the effect they have, seem relatively easy to understand. Except between the ages of 15 and 29, when females seem to move to the areas that offer employment, the proportion of females in all areas is roughly similar to the proportion of males.

It seems likely that the differences in the proportionate representation of young Maori and non-Maori men in rural and urban areas are a direct reflection of the general differences in the Maori and non-Maori populations. In a population such as the Maori population, where 47% are under 15 years of age, children cannot all move into the jobs vacated by their grandparents, as indicated by the field studies of Hohepa, 16 and McCreary and Rangihau. 17 New employment opportunities become essential. This is not necessarily the case in the non-Maori population where the proportion of school-leavers in the past decade can be expected to have corresponded much more directly to the employment vacancies resulting from death, resignation and an expanding economy. As New Zealand is a country where the demand for rural manpower has - 42 not been increasing as much as the demand for urban manpower in expanding industries, the young Maori school-leavers who are concentrated in relatively few areas (see New Zealand Census), 18 are forced to seek employment in the urban areas. The greater proportion of rural non-Maori school-leavers, on the other hand, lives in areas where there are few Maoris and hence Maori labour competition is unlikely to affect their employment opportunities and thus they do not find it necessary to seek employment in the expanding urban market.


The author wishes to thank the Department of Statistics for their advice and co-operation in making available the work sheets from which the figures were compiled; and Mr. J. R. McCreary and Dr. J. H. Robb of the School of Social Science for their guidance in the preparation of the material.

  • BORRIE, W. D., 1959. “The Maori Population: A Microcosm of a New World.” Anthropology in the South Seas, edited by Freeman, J. D. and Geddes, W. R. New Plymouth, Thomas Avery & Sons.
  • DAVIS, Kingsley and HERTZ, Hilda, 1956. “The World Distribution of Urbanisation.” Demographic Analysis, Selected Readings, edited by Spengler, Joseph J. and Duncan, Otis Dudley. Glencoe, Illinois, The Free Press.
  • FRANKLIN, S. H., 1958. “The Age Structure of New Zealand's North Island Communities.” Economic Geography, 34, 1:64-79.
  • MCCREARY, John R. and RANGIHAU, John, 1958. Parents and Children of Ruatahuna: A Report to the People. Wellington, School of Social Science, Victoria University of Wellington.
  • METGE, Alice Joan, 1958. Continuity in Change: Urbanisation and Modern Maori Society. London, University of London, Ph.D. Thesis.
  • NEW ZEALAND DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, 1959. Annual Report of the Medical Statistics of New Zealand for the year 1956.
  • NEW ZEALAND DEPARTMENT OF STATISTICS, 1958. Population Census 1956, Volume II. Ages and Marital Status.
  • — — 1960. Population Census 1956, Volume XIII. Maori Population and Dwellings.
  • SPIEGELMAN, Mortimer, 1955. Introduction to Demography. Chicago, The Society of Actuaries.
  • VIGGERS, D. A., 1952. “Population Movement from Country to Town.” New Zealand Journal of Agriculture, December 1952:510-520.
1   New Zealand Department of Statistics 1958, 1960.
2   Spiegelman 1955.
3   Franklin 1958:67.
4   Borrie 1959.
5   New Zealand Department of Statistics 1960:5-38.
6   Davis and Hertz 1956:333.
7   Census divisions into rural and urban have been used which group counties and town districts as rural, boroughs and cities as urban and those on shipboard or in extra-county islands as other.
8   Borrie 1959.
9   Metge 1958.
10   Presumably the unusual social and economic features of the post-depression and war years account for the rapid increase in urbanisation for both groups from 1936-45.
11   The fertility rates quoted represent the number of children under 1 year of age for every 100 females 16 and under 45 years of age in 1956.
12   New Zealand Department of Health 1959:xv.
13   Maori fertiltiy ratios in case A show the number of children under 1 year of age to every 100 women 16 and under 45 years of age, and in case B show the number of children under 1 year of age to every 100 women 25 and under 45 years of age. The latter ratio, although not standard demographic practice, has been used as it is more likely to exclude any bias which might be introduced if a greater proportion of single females is congregated in any particular area.
Non-Maori fertility ratios in case A show the number of children under 5 to every 100 women 16 and under 45 years of age, and in case B show the number of children under 5 to every 100 women 25 and under 45 years of age. Figures for children under 5 were used as numbers of children under 1 year of age were not available in the published statistics.
In order that the non-Maori ratios may be compared with the Maori fertility ratios the Maori ratios which are computed in the same manner as the non-Maori ratios are shown in brackets beside the more refined ratios in unbracketed type.
14   The sex ratio indicates the number of females to every 100 males.
15   These percentages do not add to 100 as a small number of people who failed to state their age have been excluded.
16   Hohepa reported in an unpublished paper delivered to the 9th New Zealand Science Congress 1960.
17   McCreary and Rangihau 1958.
18   New Zealand Department of Statistics 1960:8.