Story: Ethnic inequalities

Page 4. Ethnic diversity since 1945

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Māori migration

After the Second World War the demand for labour in the cities led many Māori to move from the country into the city. In 1966, 38% of Māori lived in rural areas – down from 74% in 1945. In 1986 only 21% of Māori lived rurally, with 57% in the main urban areas. Inequalities of income, occupation and housing became more obvious once Māori and Pākehā were in the same location. Moving to the city also cut Māori off from many aspects of the informal economy such as exchange of kaimoana (seafood).

New immigrants

A shortage of workers saw the reintroduction of assisted-passage schemes for British migrants, which lasted from 1947 to 1973, and the recruitment of smaller numbers from the Netherlands and southern Europe.

Immigrants from the Pacific, closer to home but less familiar to Pākehā, were also encouraged to enter the country. Workers, and sometimes also their families, from Samoa, Tonga and other Pacific islands arrived in increasing numbers from the 1950s.

European and Pacific workers usually had different qualifications and skills, and often did different kinds of jobs. Some European migrants did encounter prejudice. Yet the contrast in public perceptions and treatment of these groups was striking. Echoing earlier treatment of ethnic minorities, ‘Islanders’ were stigmatised and scapegoated when economic conditions deteriorated in the 1970s. Pacific people were negatively labelled overstayers. Many with short-term work visas were subjected to ‘dawn raids’ by the police (in 1974), even though European migrants were more frequently working on expired visas.

Ethnic New Zealanders

In the 2006 census there was a big increase in the number of people who described their ethnicity as New Zealanders – 11.1% compared to 2.4% in 2001. Although this was not a tickable category on the census form, 11.1% of the population described themselves as ‘New Zealanders’.1 Those who did so were more common in the South Island than the North, especially in rural provincial areas such as the West Coast, Marlborough and Southland. The lowest proportion was in Auckland. Self-identified New Zealanders were also predominantly middle-aged and born in New Zealand. A publicity campaign about the New Zealander category before the 2006 census probably explains its popularity, which was fleeting – in 2013 only 1.6% of respondents chose it.

Diverse migration from the 1980s

Wide-ranging immigration legislation and citizenship policies introduced since the mid-1980s significantly altered migrant flows into New Zealand. The new policies were based on the assumption that those best fitted to contribute to the country’s growth and prosperity should be recruited from wherever they were available, rather than on the basis of country of origin. Market forces became the guiding principle for entry. Prospective migrants now had to possess sufficient skills, qualifications, wealth, language proficiency and health to apply for permanent residence. This system led to a significant widening of the ethnic backgrounds of new migrants, although it still favoured migrants from ‘developed’ countries.

The United Kingdom remained a major source of skilled and business migrants, but many different nationalities were represented in the immigrant flows. Large numbers flowed in from various parts of Asia, along with people from Africa and South America.

Ethnic diversity

In 2013 the census revealed a population with considerable ethnic and cultural diversity. Over half a million people claimed Māori ethnicity (14.9% of the population). People of Asian ethnicity were 11.8% and Pacific people 7.4%. Together these three large non-European ethnic groups made up almost 35% of all New Zealand residents. This diversity was most visible in Auckland, where over 48% of the population claimed Māori, Asian or Pacific ethnicity. It was far less apparent in South Island provincial areas. This new level of diversity, especially in the city, made inequalities between ethnicities a matter of major social concern.

  1. Donna Cormack and Carey Robson, National identity and 'New Zealanders': considerations for monitoring Māori health and ethnic inequalities. Wellington: Te Rōpū Rangahau Hauora a Eru Pōmare, 2010, p. 5. Back
How to cite this page:

David Pearson, 'Ethnic inequalities - Ethnic diversity since 1945', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 May 2019)

Story by David Pearson, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 21 May 2018