The Grey Wave – Ageing in New Zealand

The world is in the midst of a demographic shift as the proportion of the global population over 60 years old is expected to double from 12% to 22% between 2015 and 2050. Also known as the Grey Wave, this continuing trend will have profound political, economic and social implications as the growing dependent population increases its burden on those still working. Using projections from Stats NZ, RDA has recently analysed this phenomenon across New Zealand, mapping aged population (65+ years) growth over a 10 year period (2018 – 2028).

The Grey Wave Hits New Zealand

The underlying drivers of population ageing in New Zealand (and more broadly) are declining fertility rates (at an all time low of 1.81 in 2018) and an increase in life expectancy (15th highest globally at 82.2 years). While not as dramatic as the demographic implosions of Italy (1.3 fertility rate) or South Korea (1.1 fertility rate), New Zealand’s sub-replacement fertility rate will gradually lead to a structural ageing of the population as its age bracket pyramid flattens out (see below).

Stats NZ forecasts the population of people over 65 to reach 992,426 in 2028 (19.2% of total pop), an overall increase of 39% from 713,688 in 2018 (15.2% of total pop). At this rate of growth, around one in 4.5 New Zealanders will be aged 65 plus by 2036, which is a 77% increase from 2016 levels. While migration may help mitigate some of the impact, such a high rate of ageing will contribute to significantly slower population growth over the coming decades.

  • Population Growth in New Zealand

  • Population Pyramid of New Zealand

New Zealand’s Aged Population in 2028

A decade of growth will see New Zealand’s population surpassing 5 million to reach 5,177,146 by 2028, up from 4,685,895 in 2018 (an increase of 491,251). Driven by migration (currently at historically high levels), most of this increase will be concentrated in the commercial centers of the country’s major cities. On the other hand, growth in the aged population will be more evenly distributed, being highest in areas with a current large proportion of older residents. The growth will be so significant that the number of postcodes with a 30% population proportion of people over 65 years old will increase from 35 to 153 nationwide. The areas with the highest proportion of people over 65 in 2028 will be:

  • Port Limebruners, Whangarei 75%
  • Lytton, Gisborne 62.8%
  • Bethlehem North, Tauranga 51.6%
  • Ahuriri, Napier 51.4%
  • Pauanui 51.3%
  • St Johns Hill East, Whanganui 50.4%
  • Kaiapoi East, Canterbury  49.1%
  • Cambridge Central, Cambridge 49.1%
  • Thames North, Thames 48.3%
  • Orewa South, Orewa 48.1%
  • 10 Year Population Growth Hotspots

  • 10 Year 65+ Population Growth Hotspots

  • Aged Population Distribution 2028

Ageing in the Cities

In terms of penetration (i.e. proportional growth relative to the existing older population), the growth of the aged population will be most dramatic within NZ’s three major cities: Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington. With few exceptions, most of this growth will occur within the rapidly developing outer city regions, where there will be significant development of affordable housing and retirement community housing clusters.

  • Wellington Aged Growth Penetration

  • Auckland Aged Growth Penetration

  • Christchurch Aged Growth Penetration

The New Normal

Rather than being a temporary challenge, New Zealand’s ageing population will become more entrenched over time as the gap between the birth and death rates narrows. This trend creates emerging opportunities for some key industries aimed at the aged market, such as personal services, residential care, travel and community services. To assist with targeting these opportunities, the NZ aged population data is available for use in the geoTribes Explorer.

If you have any queries about the NZ aged data, contact the RDA Help Desk ( or +612 8923 6655).