Infometrics on Kiwi migration patterns

Analysis based on new Stats NZ dataset

Infometrics on Kiwi migration patterns

In a recent article, Infometrics delved into the latest trends in domestic migration between 2021 and 2022, using a new dataset from Stats NZ to uncover key factors influencing the movement of New Zealanders within the country.

The Infometrics analysis utilised data from Stats NZ’s experimental administrative population census (APC), which now in its third iteration, includes estimates up to 2022 as well as a dataset focused on internal migration between territorial authorities.

“Some initial probing into the data showed that fundamental patterns hadn’t changed all that much,” said Sabrina Swerdloff (pictured above), Infometrics economist. “This fact suggests that perhaps the factors influencing domestic migration are simpler, and more fundamental, than one might expect.”

The closer, the better

The data revealed a predominant preference for intra-island migration, with a significant majority choosing to relocate within their respective islands.

“In 2022, 379,000 people in the North Island had moved from their town the prior year,” Swerdloff said. “Of these people, 349,000 (or 92%) had moved somewhere else within the North Island. Similarly, 77,500 people in the South Island had moved from their town in 2021, 55,000 (71%) of which relocated within the South Island.”

Connected cities retain people within the region

However, the data also revealed that the varying degrees of conurbation (number of connected large towns or cities) and transportation connectivity across New Zealand significantly influence the choices of domestic migrants in deciding where to reside, Swerdloff said.

In 2022, Auckland, Canterbury, and Wellington experienced significant intra-regional migration. Out of those who moved from their local board (LB) area in Auckland in 2021, 76% stayed within the Auckland region in 2022. Likewise, 53% of Kiwis relocating from their territorial authority (TA) in Canterbury in 2021 remained in the region in 2022, while 47% of those who moved TA within the Wellington Region chose to stay within the same region the next year.

“Regions which saw a high proportion of migrants remaining in the area appear to be characterised by a strong connectivity between urban zones within the region,” Swerdloff said. “This pattern can also be understood in its reverse; areas with a small proportion of people remaining within the region tended to be those with poor inter-city connectivity.”

The West Coast, Northland, and Otago had the lowest levels of intra-regional migration. These regions feature a primary urban area, often accompanied by a smaller urban center or geographic barriers to additional urban areas. This means that residents face limited alternatives for relocating to towns of comparable size or commuting to sustain work and social connections, Swerdloff said.

Regional connectivity and migration

Looking at people leaving Auckland, most stayed in the North Island. Of those who left their local board in Auckland in 2021, 94% remained in the North Island in 2022. The majority (81%) stayed in the Auckland Region, while others went to Waikato (6.3%), Northland (3.7%), and Bay of Plenty (3.1%), according to Infometrics analysis.

Similar trends were seen in regions like Northland, Taranaki, and the Bay of Plenty, where a large percentage of people moving within the same island stayed close to their original region but also moved to nearby attractive regions like Auckland, Waikato, and Manawatu-Whanganui.

Swerdloff said the domestic migration results showed a clear bias towards geographically close regions, if possible, due perhaps, to several potential factors.

“Firstly, the barriers to moving are simply lower for geographically close regions – moving services are cheaper, migrants can drive rather than fly, and return visits to visit family or friends are easier,” she said.

“Job market similarities in geographically close regions may also keep people close to home; for example, someone with a skill set suited to the primary sector that currently lives in Taranaki will have an easier time finding a job in Waikato compared to Wellington. Interconnected cities are also likely to share housing markets, with similar house prices within regions, making housing within a region more substitutable.

North-south movement

Some regions had many people moving to a different island in 2022, such as Marlborough, Otago, Nelson-Tasman, Canterbury, Southland, and Wellington.

In general, more people from the South Island moved to the North Island, maybe due to worse inter-regional connectivity in the South Island, and because there are more large urban centres in the North Island, Swerdloff said.

Meanwhile, Nelson-Tasman and Canterbury make it easy to go to the North Island because they’re close to the ferry terminal and have a big airport. Wellington, too, has good access to the South Island.

“With strong student populations in Dunedin and Christchurch, it is also not surprising that flows from Otago and Canterbury would be comparatively more far-reaching,” Swerdloff said. “Young people are probably more likely to seek a different lifestyle and less likely to prioritise being close to family.”

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