New Zealand’s total fertility rate in 2020 was down to 1.61 births per woman, its lowest recorded level and well below the population replacement rate of 2.1, Stats NZ has announced.
In simple terms this means that, based on birth rates in 2020, women in NZ would average 1.61 births over their lifetime.
“Fertility rates in New Zealand were relatively stable between 1980 and 2012, but have generally decreased since then,” Stats NZ’s Population Estimates and Projections Manager, Hamish Slack, said.
Birth rate in 2020 was 3 percent lower than 2019
“Since 2013, the number of women of reproductive age has increased by 11 percent and the number of births has decreased by 2 percent.”
In 2020, there were 57,753 live births registered in the country, down by 3 percent from the previous year. There was also a 2 percent increase in the number of women aged 15–49 years (those of general reproductive age).
According to Stats NZ, the combination of fewer births and an increase in women aged 15–49 in 2020 helps to explain why the fertility rate was at a record low.
Most registered babies conceived before lockdown
Most babies registered in 2020 were conceived before New Zealand moved to Covid-19 alert level 4 on 25 March 2020. Data to be released in May 2021 will include births that were conceived during the lockdown restrictions.
New Zealand’s total fertility rate has shown similar trends to other developed countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and United States.
Although fertility rates are decreasing, NZ still has a population that is increasing in size through migration and natural increase (more births than deaths). However, a total fertility rate below replacement level over a longer period of time can lead to long-term population decrease.
Japan provides an example of a decreasing population
For example, Japan’s total fertility rate has been consistently below 2.1 since 1974. And with limited migration, it has had a decreasing population since 2011.
Examining birth rates by region, Gisborne and Northland had the highest fertility rate at 2.3 births per woman. Mothers from these regions also had the youngest median age at the time of birth (28.4 and 28.9 years respectively for births during 2017–19).
Otago and Wellington had the lowest total fertility rate at 1.4 and 1.5 respectively. The median age of mothers from these areas at the time of giving birth was the highest in New Zealand, at 31.4 years for both regions.