How many people live in Canterbury?
This page explains the difference between census counts and estimates, and which data to use for which purpose. It also provides data and summary analysis for Canterbury from the Census 2018, and data and summary analysis from estimates of the resident population as at 30 June 2021.
Which data should I use?
There are two sources of information about how many people usually live in a region, city or district in New Zealand.
- The Census counts the usually resident population present on Census night – usually every five years
- Census counts let us compare a number of different variables (e.g. age, sex, ethnicity, occupation)
- Because the Census counts the total population, it provides useful data for sub-district/city analysis down to ‘statistical area 2 ’ (population of 1,000 to 4,000; e.g. a suburb), ‘statistical area 1’ (population of 100-200, maximum of 500) and ‘meshblock’ (the smallest geographic unit for which Statistics New Zealand collects statistical data – around 60 to 120 people).
- Estimates of the resident population are prepared by Statistics New Zealand and published annually, as at 30 June
- Estimates are based on Census counts, updated for residents missed or counted more than once by the census (‘net census undercount’), residents temporarily overseas on census night, and births, deaths and net migration between census night in early March and the 30 June date of the estimate
- Consequently, population estimates are generally higher than the Census count. For example, the 2013 Census count (5 March 2013) of usually resident population for Canterbury was 539,436. The (revised) estimated resident population as at 30 June 2013 was 562,900 – a difference of 23,464 people.
View information about Statistics New Zealand’s population estimates.
Census of Population and Dwellings
The 2018 Census was conducted on Tuesday 6 March 2018 and provides counts for the usually resident population in New Zealand, regional council areas and territorial authority areas within Canterbury.
The 2018 Census was largely conducted online and resulted in a lower than expected response rate, with around 11% non-response. In consultation with international experts, Stats NZ has corrected for this using administrative data.
The first release of Census 2018 data was on 23 September 2019. Information releases will be published on the Stats NZ website.
The 2011 Census was postponed due to the Christchurch earthquake on 22 February 2011. Because the gap between Census 2006 and Census 2013 was seven years, changes in the data between 2006 and 2013 may be greater than in the usual five-year gap between censuses. Be careful when comparing trends.
For planning purposes, remember to use the estimated resident population (as at 30 June each year), not Census counts of the usually resident population.
- The usually resident population of New Zealand grew from 4.2 million in 2013 to 4.7 million in 2018 – an average annual increase of 2.1% per year. This annual average growth is significantly higher than between 2006–2013 (0.7%). The higher growth rate reflects high net migration.
- 76.5% of New Zealand’s population (3.6 million people) lives in the North Island; 23.5% (1.1million people) lives in the South Island.
- At the time of the 2018 Census, Canterbury, with 13% of New Zealand’s population (600,000 people), was the most populous region in the South Island, and the second most populous region in New Zealand after the Auckland region. Even so, the population of the Auckland region (1.6 million people, 33% of New Zealand’s total population) is more than 2.5 times larger than Canterbury’s.
- Between 2001 and 2006, Canterbury’s population grew by an average of 1.6% each year, close to the national average of 1.5%. Population growth dropped both nationally and in the Canterbury region between 2006 and 2013, to 0.5% average annual growth in Canterbury, and 0.7% in New Zealand as a whole. Between 2013 and 2018, Canterbury’s population grew by an average of 2.1% each year, the same as the national average.
- All regions’ average annual growth rates were higher between 2013–18 than 2006–13, except the West Coast region, which experienced an average annual decrease in population of 0.4%. Northland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions were the fastest growing regions between 2013–2018, with an annual average growth rate above the national average.
- Calculated as a percentage of the usually resident population in the Canterbury regional council area, 60% live in Christchurch City, and 79% live in the three ‘greater Christchurch’ territorial authority areas: Waimakariri District, Christchurch City and Selwyn District.
- Before the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010–11, 65% of Canterbury region’s population lived in Christchurch City. Christchurch city’s population (369,006) bounced back after experiencing a decrease following the 2011 earthquakes – up from 341,469 in 2013 and 348,456 in 2006.
- The average annual percentage increase in the Census usually resident population between 2006 and 2018 was 1.2% for Canterbury region, compared to 1.3% for New Zealand as a whole.
- The two fastest growing TAs in New Zealand between 2006 and 2018 were in the South Island: Selwyn District (6.3%) and Queenstown-Lakes District (6.8%).
- Three Canterbury territorial authority areas experienced average annual population increases greater than either the national or regional averages: Selwyn District (6.3%), Waimakariri District (3.5%) and Mackenzie District (3.2%). The remaining seven territorial authorities also experienced average annual population increases between Census 2013 and Census 2018, but at a lower rate than the national or regional averages: Waimate District (0.7%), Christchurch City (1.6%), Ashburton District (1.5%), Hurunui District (1.7%), Timaru District (0.4%), Waitaki District (1.4%) and Kaikōura District (1.9%)
Download data on 2018 Census counts for Canterbury (XLSX File, 58.87KB)
Population estimates provide the most reliable numbers for annual planning and reporting purposes, and for describing the usually resident population of a region or territorial authority for a particular year.
View information about Statistics New Zealand’s population estimates.
- New Zealand’s provisional estimated resident population as at 30 June 2020 was 5,084,300.
- During the June 2020 year, New Zealand’s population grew by 105, 000 (2.1%). In the previous years (1997-2019), New Zealand’s population grew by an average of 56,300, or 1.3% per year.
- Natural increase (births minus deaths) was 25,600 and net migration gain (arrivals minus departures) was 79,400. In the long term, however, the rate of population growth is expected to decrease.
- At 30 June 2020, half of New Zealand’s population was aged over 37.4 years (the median age). This is slightly lower than the median age of 37.3 years at 30 June 2017 because of the impact of migration.
- Long term, the median age is expected to continue to trend upwards as migrants, and the general population age.
- Children (0-14 years) were 19.0% of the population at 30 June 2020, down from 19.2% in 2019.
- Between 2019 and 2020, the younger working-age population (15-39 years) increased from 34.2% to 34.3%, mainly due to migration.
- The older working-age population (40-64 years) decreased from 31.3% to 31.1%.
- The population aged 65+ increased from 15.2% to 15.6% of the population.
- Over the last twenty-five years (1996-2020), children have decreased from 23.0% to 19.0% of the population; younger working age have decreased from 38.4% to 34.3%; older working age have increased from 27.0% to 31.1%; the population aged 65+ has increased from 11.5% to 15.5%.
- The subnational population estimates at 30 June 2019 and 2020 are both provisional. Final estimates will be released later in 2021.
- As at 30 June 2018, 77% of New Zealand’s population (3,749,200 people) lived in the North Island; 23% (1,135,700 people) in the South Island.
- In the year to June 2018, the South Island’s population grew by 1.8% (an increase of 19,900 people), compared to 2.0% for the North Island (an increase of 71,800 people).
- 55% of South Islanders (624,200 people) were estimated to live in Canterbury as at 30 June 2018. With 13% of New Zealand’s population, Canterbury is the most populous region in the South Island, and the second most populous region in New Zealand after the Auckland region. Even so, the population of the Auckland region (35% of New Zealand’s population; 1,695,900 people as at 30 June 2018) is almost three times larger than Canterbury’s.
- Of New Zealand’s 16 regional council areas (regions), all regions experienced population growth in the June 2018 year. Four regions had population growth above the national growth rate of 1.9%: Auckland (2.3%), Northland (2.1%), Canterbury (2.0%) and Otago (2.2%). Waikato and Bay of Plenty had the same population growth rate as the national growth rate. Two regions had population growth rates below 1% - West Coast (0.3%) and Marlborough (0.9%).
Download data and charts on the estimated resident population of regional council areas, 2001 to 2018 – see worksheets 1 and 2.
- The population in an area grows or declines because of a combination of natural increase (more births than deaths) and net migration (the number of people who move into an area less the number who leave).
- In the year to June 2020, all 16 regions experienced population growth greater than the previous year—except Gisborne, which had the same population growth rate as its previous year (1.2%). The national population growth rate was 2.1% and seven regions had population growth above this rate (Otago 2.3%, Northland 2.6%, Waikato 2.3%, Auckland 2.2%, Bay of Plenty 2.8%, Tasman 2.4%, and Canterbury 2.2%).
- All regions had population gains from natural increase and net migration gains.
- Net migration was the main contributor to growth in all regions except for the West Coast and contributed almost four-fifths of the growth in South Island regions.
- 7.5% of New Zealand’s population growth in the year to June 2020 happened in the North Island, with Auckland accounting for about 35.2% of growth. Canterbury accounted for 12.9% of population growth.
- In Canterbury in the year to June 2020, there was natural increase of 2,500 people, and net migration of 11,200 people, resulting in population growth of 13,600 people. That is, 82% of Canterbury’s population growth in the year to June 2020 was due to net migration, compared to 75% for New Zealand as a whole.
Download data and charts (XLSX file, 168.9KB) on components of population change in regional council areas – see worksheet 4.
Estimates for Canterbury territorial authority areas
- The South Island had the fastest-growing districts in the June 2020 year: Queenstown-Lakes (5.8%), followed by Selwyn (5.2%).
- All 10 territorial authority areas in Canterbury experienced population growth in the June 2020 year, with growth rates higher than both the national and overall regional rate of growth in Selwyn (5.2%),Waimakariri (3.0%) and Kaikōura (2.42%) districts.
- Canterbury’s population is unevenly distributed across its ten territorial authority areas. As at 30 June 2020, 61% of Canterbury’s population was estimated to live in Christchurch City (394,700 people). Eighty-two per cent of Canterbury’s population lived in the three ‘greater Christchurch’ TAs: Waimakariri District, Christchurch City and Selwyn District (529, 100 people).
- At the other end of the scale, three districts are estimated to have fewer than 10,000 residents: Kaikōura district (4,220 people), Mackenzie district (5,240 people) and Waimate district (8,240 people).
Population change in Canterbury territorial authority areas
- The population in an area grows or declines because of a combination of natural increase (more births than deaths) and net migration (the number of people who arrive less those who depart).
- 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. Christchurch City population has exceeded pre-earthquake levels by 11,800 - Christchurch City population was 394,700 in 2009-20 and 388,500 in 2017-18.
- Understanding historical trends in components of population change is important when planning for future population growth (or decline).
- For example, Waitaki District has had zero natural increase since 2007, but has achieved population gain of 1100 people through net migration in the decade 2008–18. This illustrates that even with zero natural increase, the population can be held stable or grow if new migrants can be attracted to a region.