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New Zealand’s Diaspora and Overseas-born Population - WP 04/13

2  The diaspora

This section gives estimates of the size and geographical distribution of the New Zealand diaspora. The principal source of data is the “place of birth” question in national censuses. We treat a person as belonging to the New Zealand diaspora if the person was born in New Zealand but is resident in another country at the time of the other country’s census. This means defining a person as a “New Zealander” if, and only if, that person was born in New Zealand. We assemble statistics on the diasporas of eight comparator countries using the same approach.

Some previous research has used essentially the same methods. An unpublished study by Statistics New Zealand, for instance, used overseas data on numbers of resident New Zealanders to estimate the size of the New Zealand diaspora. A report on the Australian diaspora relies on estimates derived from consular activity to calculate numbers of Australians overseas, but uses census data to estimate numbers of New Zealanders overseas (Hugo, Rudd and Harris 2003: Table 2.5). We have, however, obtained data from a much larger number of destination countries than these earlier studies, aided by the increasing tendency for statistical agencies to place census results on their internet sites.

Although our definition captures one important aspect of the everyday concept of “New Zealander”, “Australian”, and so on, it does lead to some anomalies. For instance, it excludes some people who might ordinarily be included, such as those who moved to New Zealand as young children. It also includes people who might ordinarily be excluded, such as those who moved overseas as young children. These somewhat artificial exclusions and inclusions should, to some unknown extent, offset one another. The birthplace definition also has some important technical advantages. First, data on place of birth are readily available, including data from other countries. Second, the meaning of place of birth is clear, so the associated data are likely to be relatively reliable. Third, people have only one place of birth, so there is no danger of double counting.

Unlike the unpublished Statistics New Zealand study, and unlike some estimates of the Irish or Italian diasporas, we make no attempt to include spouses or descendants. Data with which to estimate numbers of spouses and descendants are only available for a few countries, such as Australia. It is also unclear whether spouses and descendants have the same potential as do New Zealand-born themselves to be international intermediaries.

Table 1 shows data on foreign and native populations from the websites of 20 national statistical agencies.[2] In Table 1, as in all tables in this paper, the estimates refer to the “usually resident” population: that is, the estimates try to include local residents temporarily overseas, and exclude overseas residents temporarily in the country. The row for Australia, for instance, shows the number of Australian residents born in Australia, Canada, Korea, and the other six countries, as recorded in Australia’s 2001 Census. Dashes indicate no data available, which, since statistical agencies generally report the major migration sources first, implies that the number of immigrants was small.

Table 1– International diaspora, New Zealand and eight selected countries, 2001
  Country of birth
Country of residence Australia Canada Korea Ireland Italy Nether-lands New Zealand United Kingdom United States
Argentinaa -- -- -- -- 328,113 -- -- -- --
Australia 13,629,685 27,289 38,900 50,235 218,718 83,324 355,765 1,036,245 53,694
Austria 659 1,658 1,446 546 26,099 5,248 156 6,786 7,371
Canada 18,910 23,991,910 82,745 26,210 318,095 118,460 9,475 614,610 258,420
Denmark 886 1,786 483 1,129 3,110 4,955 382 11,670 6,219
Finland 673 1,261 152 244 1,057 832 88 3,067 3,050
Franceb 2,868 8,790 9,781 3,858 523,080 20,813 890 59,356 26,320
Germanye 8,322 12,646 22,634 15,594 616,282 112,362 1,643 115,167 113,528
Ireland 5,947 3,926 -- 3,354,025 3,634 3,428 2,195 242,155 20,977
Italye 2,881 2,683 3,793 2,204 56,573,464 7,312 234 24,592 18,941
Japanc,e 4,759 5,824 560,414 -- 1,017 -- 1,814 8,789 38,954
Koreae -- -- 48,021,543 -- -- -- -- -- --
Netherlands 12,805 12,199 2,764 7,248 35,193 13,140,336 4,260 74,869 29,093
New Zealand 56,142 7,770 17,934 6,726 1,440 22,239 2,890,869 210,978 13,344
Norway -- -- 6,086 -- -- 4,140 -- 14,177 14,666
Spain 1,012 1,489 1,780 3,677 21,833 16,383 275 88,107 12,323
Sweden 2,387 2,324 9,320 1,200 6,538 4,777 687 15,458 14,711
Thailandd, e 1,400 1,400 1,800 -- 600 900 300 2,300 5,200
United Kingdom 107,871 72,518 -- 533,852 107,244 40,438 58,286 53,892,620 158,434
United Statesd 60,965 820,771 864,125 156,474 473,338 94,570 22,872 677,751 250,314,017
Total 13,918,172 24,976,244 49,645,700 4,163,222 59,258,855 13,680,517 3,350,191 57,098,697 251,109,262
Total outside country of birth 288,487 984,334 1,624,157 809,197 2,685,391 540,181 459,322 3,206,077 795,245

a1991 b1999 c1995 d2000 eCitizenship rather than birth

Note – Dashes indicate no data available.

Sources – See Appendix Table 1.

The rows for Germany, Italy, Japan, and Thailand are based on data for citizenship rather than birthplace. It seems unlikely that this makes much difference to the results.[3]

Reading down the columns of Table 1 gives, for each country, the international distribution of people born in that country. The “total” row at the bottom of the table shows the number of people born in the country, including both those inside and outside the country. The totals, and the sub-totals for people outside their country of birth, are all underestimates, because we have been unable to obtain data on immigrants for all countries. We suspect that, for New Zealand, the degree of underestimation is relatively small. All the major countries not included in Table 1 are non-English-speaking. For almost all the non-English-speaking countries shown in Table 1, the number of resident New Zealanders is fairly low. There are, for instance, only 890 New Zealanders reported as living in France, only 234 in Italy, and only 88 in Finland. It seems likely that the numbers of New Zealanders living in countries not included in Table 1 runs to thousands rather than tens of thousands.

Table 1 shows that there were something in excess of 460,000 New Zealand-born living outside New Zealand in 2001. Of these, almost 360,000 were living in Australia. This represents about 11% of all New Zealand-born, and 77% of the total New Zealand-born population living outside New Zealand. The number of New Zealanders in other countries is much smaller than is often assumed. Expatriates in the United Kingdom often claim that London is New Zealand’s third or fourth largest city. As Table 1 shows, however, the number of New Zealand-born residents in the whole of the United Kingdom in 2001 was less than 60,000.[4] The New Zealand-born populations in the United States and Canada are also not particularly large, and we were able to identify only three non-English-speaking countries with New Zealand-born populations of more than 1,000.

The estimate of something over 460,000 New Zealanders living overseas is consistent with the fact that New Zealand lost 484,000 citizens abroad over the period 1954-2001 (Bushnell and Choy 2001: 4). The two measures would not, in general be equal, since some New Zealand citizens are not born in New Zealand, and since the net loss measure does not take account of deaths. The number 460,000 is, however, substantially smaller than the figure of one million that is often cited as the size of the New Zealand diaspora. Some of the difference may be attributed to definitions: the larger estimates tend to include children and spouses of New Zealanders. The difference does, however, illustrate the danger of generalising from anecdotes and from impressions gained on the London Underground.


  • [2]We tried a further 20 or so websites, but were unable to obtain comparable data.
  • [3]The use of citizenship rather than birthplace could, however, make a substantial difference to estimates of overall foreign population in these countries. See Section 3 for details.
  • [4]If it is assumed that about 50,000 of the almost 60,000 New Zealanders in the United Kingdom lived in London in 2001, then London was New Zealand’s eleventh-biggest city, behind Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton, Napier-Hastings, Dunedin, Tauranga, Palmerston North, Rotorua, and Nelson, and just ahead of New Plymouth (population 49,100). (These city population numbers were obtained from the Subnational Population Estimates page on the Statistics New Zealand website.)
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