Local government services need to adapt to changes in the size, age structure and distribution of the population. Having accurate information helps to plan and prepare for these changes.

How many people live in Canterbury?

Data and summary analysis for Canterbury from the Census 2018, and data and summary analysis from provisional estimates of the resident population as at 30 June 2021.

Why population information matters for local government

Growth, decline and demand for local services
Population growth (or decline), age structure and distribution (spread), and the number and type of households and families in our cities, towns and communities affect:
  • demand for local services and the willingness and ability of ratepayers to pay for them
  • representation and participation in local democracy
  • interactions between human activity and the natural environment.
Our population is ageing
Improvements in life expectancy and decreases in birth rates result in a greater number of older people, and a higher median age (more older people than younger people). This affects:
  • the size of the workforce, including the availability of young people entering the workforce and expectations of ‘working age’
  • the kind of services needed – and ability to pay for them
  • local authorities’ own workforce.
Impact of the Canterbury earthquakes
  • The loss of an estimated 16,600 people through net migration from Christchurch City in 2011 and 2012 was a consequence of the 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquakes.
  • While this net loss had largely reversed by the time of the 2013 Census, Christchurch City’s population was down 2.0% to 341,469 people, compared with 348,459 in 2006. The 2018 Census has shown that Christchurch city’s population (369,006) has since bounced back.
  • There has been a significant population movement to the south-west outskirts of Christchurch City – and to Selwyn District in the south, and Waimakariri District in the north – with population decreases in the eastern suburbs of Christchurch City.
  • Two-thirds of people who moved from the most damaged areas stayed in the same territorial authority.
  • At the 2013 Census, there were 4,131 more men than women in greater Christchurch aged 15–29 years, reflecting the influx of technicians and trades workers for the rebuild.
  • By June 2016, Christchurch City’s estimated resident population (375,000) was close to the ERP of 376,700 at 30 June 2010. Christchurch City population has now exceeded pre-earthquake levels by 11, 800 – at 30 June 2021 the (provisional) estimated resident population is 392, 100.

Key facts about Canterbury’s population 

  • The estimated resident population of Canterbury at 30 June 2023 was 666, 300 people.
  • Canterbury has 13% of New Zealand’s population, is the most populous region in the South Island and the second most populous region in New Zealand (after Auckland).
  • 82% of Canterbury’s estimated resident population live in Greater Christchurch (Christchurch City, Waimakariri and Selwyn Districts).
  • The population of Canterbury is projected to grow by, on average, 0.8% per year between 2018 and 2048, at the same rate of growth as New Zealand's total population.
  • One in four people in Canterbury will be aged 65 years or over by 2048. The median age is projected to increase from 38 years in 2018 to 45 years in 2048 – higher than the median age for New Zealand as a whole (44 years in 2048).
Households and families
  • In 2018, there were 226, 806 households (occupied private dwellings) in Canterbury – this is projected to increase to 298,000 by 2043 – an average annual increase of 1.0% on the medium projection series.


  • All Canterbury TAs will have more one-person households in 2043 than in 2018, mainly due to the increasing number of people at older ages.

  • Couple-without-children is the most common family type. Growth in the number of couples whose children have left the family home is expected to be significant as the large number of people born during the 1950s–70s reach the older ages.
Culture and identity
  • Canterbury has a higher percentage of people who identify as European than New Zealand as a whole, and a smaller percentage of people who identify as Māori, Pacific, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American and African (MELAA)
  • Christchurch City has the most ethnically diverse population in Canterbury
  • Māori and Pacific populations in Canterbury have a markedly younger age structure than the total population, due to higher birth rates
  • 23% of people in Canterbury were born overseas. Just under half of these had been living in New Zealand for less than ten years at the time of the 2018 Census. 
  • The most common birthplace for overseas-born people living in Canterbury in 2018 was Asia (37%), followed by UK and Ireland (28%) and Australia (17%). 
  • Just over 50,000 people in Canterbury are of Māori descent – of these, 9,400 affiliated with Ngāi Tahu in the 2013 Census

About this information

This section is hosted by Environment Canterbury for the Canterbury Policy Forum. Information comes from official statistics collected and published by Statistics New Zealand. While every care has been taken in presenting this information, we cannot accept any liability for errors of fact or interpretation. Read the most current releases from Statistics New Zealand.

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