Story: Canterbury region

Page 14. People

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Population today

The total population of the Canterbury region in 2013 was 478,623 – 11.3% of New Zealand’s population. Just over 71% of Cantabrians lived in Christchurch city, which had a population of 341,469 – a decline of 2% since 2006.

A major reason for the decline was the exodus of people from the city following the 2011 earthquake. Some of the badly damaged eastern suburbs experienced population decreases of well over 40%. Many residents relocated to less-affected areas in the south-west outskirts of the city and in the Selwyn and Waimakariri districts, which experienced population increases of 32.6% and 16.7% respectively between 2006 and 2013.

Chinese in Christchurch

Christchurch’s sizeable Chinese community includes descendants of 19th- and 20th-century immigrants, and more recent arrivals from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South-East Asia. They embrace both Chinese and New Zealand culture: for instance, the Taiwanese have formed a writers’ association whose members write in Chinese, and translate New Zealand works into Chinese.

Population in the past

Canterbury’s population first boomed between 1871 and 1881. There was a second spurt from 1955 to 1970. During the 20th century the population trebled. By the early 2000s the proportion of urban dwellers (in Christchurch, Rangiora, Kaiapoi and Ashburton) had grown to more than 90%. The rural population as a whole was steady until 1941, but then fell and has not recovered.

Māori and other ethnic groups

Canterbury’s population is still more European than in most North Island regions. In New Zealand as a whole in 2013, 74% of the population identified themselves as European. Canterbury’s 86.2% was significantly higher. In Waimakariri district, only 9.9% in total identified as Māori, Pacific or Asian.

Most Māori, Asian and Pacific people of the region live in or near Christchurch. In 2013 the proportion of Asians in Christchurch was slightly lower than the national figure, and the proportion of Māori and Pacific people was much lower:

  • Asians were 9.4% of the city’s population, compared with 11.8% of the national population
  • Māori were 8.5%, compared with 14.9% nationally
  • Pacific people were 3.1%, compared with 7.4% nationally.

From 1981 the proportion of Māori and Asians grew – and by 2013 there were 2,634 Muslims living in Christchurch.

Age, education and wealth

Through the 20th century and into the 21st, compared to the rest of the country, Christchurch people were older, better educated and enjoyed a higher level of home ownership and lower mortgage debt.

Median incomes were close to the national figure except in Selwyn, where they were significantly higher. In the region in June 2014, the unemployment rate was half the national rate as the Christchurch rebuild took off.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Canterbury region - People', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 March 2018)

Story by John Wilson, published 14 Sep 2006, reviewed & revised 6 Jul 2015