Auckland’s first decline in population in 180 years

31 October 2023

In 2021 and 2022 Auckland’s population declined for the first time in its 180-year history.  On the surface, this can be attributed to Covid-19.  However, as the Country’s total population continued to increase over these years, this suggests something is occurring beneath the surface that has caused this historic decline.

As recent as the turn of the century, 75% of New Zealand’s population growth was in Auckland (see the figure below).  Auckland’s dominance has rapidly decreased over the subsequent two decades, and by 2020 accounted for only 34% of the country’s total growth.  In 2021 and 2022, Auckland had a decline in population of 9,400 and 12,500. However, New Zealand's population increased in total by 21,600 and 12,600 for these years. 

Source: Statistics NZ

So why did Auckland’s population decline while the other regions have seen unprecedented growth?  The answer is simple - Auckland has high house prices and people prefer low house prices. 

A UE commissioned survey of Auckland residents housing relocation intentions, completed in 2022, found that a significant 54% of residents are considering relocating out of Auckland.  Of these residents looking to relocate out of Auckland, 34% cited Auckland’s high house prices as the main reason.  This trend is more prevalent in first-home buyers, with 61% saying they are considering relocating out of Auckland, and 62% citing the main reason being high house prices.


As shown in the figure, Auckland’s internal migration (in orange) has been negative and decreasing over the past two decades, with a rapid increase in people leaving Auckland seen in the past 6-7 years. 

Natural population increase has steadily decreased, and with increasing internal migration from Auckland, is now at a level where there is a decline in the total number of New Zealand-born residents in Auckland each year.  For example, in 2022, there were 11,700 additional residents from natural increase, however, 14,400 residents left Auckland for the regions. 

International migration is, therefore, the key driver of Auckland’s population growth, due to the ‘Rush to the Regions’, and this trend appears to be firmly set in.  In 2021 and 2022 international migration was put on hold due to Covid-19, and consequently, Auckland’s population declined.

With strong international migration expected to continue for the next decade, Auckland will return to strong population growth. However, Auckland will continue to be characterized by an ongoing outflow of New Zealand-born residents and will rely in large part on international migration for future population growth.

Adam Thompson

Director and Lead Economic & Property Researcher

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