BOP Regional Councillor
New Zealand is a nation transitioning from a younger to a more mature and ageing population.
This echoes population trends in many developed countries overseas. Major changes being seen include an increase in numbers of elderly people and an increased proportion of elderly in the population. In addition, younger people are congregating in the cities, leaving rural communities with fewer young families and youth. As the population ages, these communities are gradually dying, resulting in the closure of small towns and villages across the world.
Unfortunately, once you have more elderly than youth, the population reaches a position of natural decline which is not able to be offset by immigration. Eventually you have a shortage of people in the working age population and the end of unemployment. Society will have to accommodate older people living and working longer.
Nationally, Statistics NZ projects that by 2051, there will be 65 per cent more people aged 65 and over, than children in New Zealand. The western Bay of Plenty is one of the fastest growing sub-regions in New Zealand. It also has a higher percentage of people over 65 years old than the national average and our older population is growing at a faster rate than the total population. The higher proportion of the older population in the western Bay is affected by three key things: people are living longer; we have a declining birth rate (except for Maori); and people move here to enjoy the lifestyle on offer for their retirement years.
This means that there are increasingly more older people than youth as a proportion of the population. Projections for the next 20 years indicate that there will be more people in our population over 45 years old than under 45. The number of people aged 65+ will double. The most rapid change will be in the numbers of people aged 80+ which is projected to increase seven fold to 35,000 in 2051.
On the flip side, our Maori population is so much younger than our European population. Nationally, the median age for Maori is 23. Maori population is 25 per cent of all children and 28 per cent of children under 4 years. In the Bay of Plenty, 37 per cent of children in our schools are Maori. Tauranga is expected to accommodate the fastest growing Maori population in New Zealand from both natural increase and increased migration.
Despite this and projections of growth, the western Bay of Plenty population will have an imbalance of older people to younger people and the implications for us are huge. We need to be planning age-friendly communities including housing, transport and community facilities. We will have to gear up our health system and support networks. We also need to be considering the impact on our economy. It is important that we try retain our youth, rather than losing them to other areas. The trend of unemployment in Maori youth needs to be overturned because we will need them to support our productive sector.
Our aging population is a big challenge and it will affect planning, funding and service delivery in many sectors. We need to be thinking about it now.