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The Ageing of the New Zealand Population, 1881-2051 - WP 03/27

5  International comparisons

New Zealand’s fertility rates have been relatively high by OECD standards, leaving New Zealand with a relatively young age structure (Bryant 2003b). Figure 13 illustrates New Zealand’s position within the OECD using United Nations Population Division projections for all 30 OECD countries.

Youth dependency has been higher in New Zealand than in most OECD countries, and is projected to remain so. The only two countries with substantially higher youth dependency at present are Turkey and Mexico, both of which are relatively poor and under-developed. Korea began the 1950s poor and under-developed, but has experienced such rapid development, and such an extreme fertility decline, that its youth dependency ratio is now lower than New Zealand’s and is projected to remain lower.

Old-age dependency has been lower in New Zealand than in most other countries, and is projected to remain so. The only countries with substantially lower old-age dependency are again Korea, Mexico, and Turkey, though the UN projects that Korea will overtake New Zealand in coming decades.

The net effect of New Zealand’s high youth dependency and low old-age dependency has, for past decades, been relatively high total dependency. If the UN projections are borne out, however, total dependency will rise more slowly in New Zealand than elsewhere over coming decades. New Zealand will move from near the top of the international distribution for total dependency ratios to near the bottom. Concern at dependency burdens created by population ageing thus needs to be tempered by the realization that any adverse effects of ageing per se are likely to be felt more strongly in other OECD countries than they are here. At the same time, however, it must be acknowledged that fiscal and economic effects of population ageing depend also on many non-demographic factors, such the financing arrangements for government pension schemes, or the incentives for labour force participation.

Figure 13 – Dependency ratios of OECD countries
Youth dependency ratio
Dependency ratios of OECD countries: youth
Old-age dependency ratio
Dependency ratios of OECD countries: old age
Total dependency ratio
Dependency ratios of OECD countries: total
Dependency ratio graph key
Source: Calculated from data from the United Nations Population Division’s online database World Population Prospects: The 2002 Revision at
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