In the period after the Second World War Māori entered the second phase of the demographic transition, characterised by rapid population growth. Fertility rates remained high, well above those of Pākehā, despite the Pākehā ‘baby boom’. At the same time, levels of Māori mortality declined markedly, particularly for infants and children. The drop in mortality was influenced by a new government approach that embedded health policies within a broad range of social programmes designed to improve Māori living conditions, especially housing, incomes, employment and sanitation.
During the 1950s natural increase for the Māori population surged to more than 4% per year, close to the maximum possible increase for a group closed to migration. Growth rates between 1945 and 1966 were almost double those of the preceding two decades. The male life-expectancy advantage common among populations at the early stages of the demographic transition – when women are more likely to die in their childbearing years – also gave way to the modern norm of higher life-expectancy for women.
The second migration
Māori also transformed from a mostly rural people to a predominantly urban one. This ‘second Māori migration’ has been described as one of the most rapid urban transitions recorded for any population before the 1970s. During the Second World War, Māori had been conscripted into urban-based industries, and men had volunteered for overseas military service at exceptionally high rates. After the war, population pressures on sparse rural resources, the manufacturing boom and higher wages, provided further reasons for Māori to move. Assisted by targeted government relocation programmes, Māori left their rural homelands in droves.
By 1971, 71% of Māori lived in urban areas, compared with just 26% in 1945. Though unequivocally an urban-based people, Māori were still less likely than Pākehā to live in densely populated metropolitan areas. The cultural and social changes that ensued were rapid and far-reaching. Traditional institutions and patterns of social organisation were replaced by new identities and forms of association that marked a break from tribally structured rural life.
The Auckland Māori Community Centre in Freemans Bay opened in 1948 as a pan-tribal Māori cultural and social centre – akin to a marae. New Māori city-dwellers were drawn to its weekend dances, talent quests and kapa haka practices. The centre also hosted weddings, meetings and tangi (funerals), including that of Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa). It provided a template for urban marae elsewhere.
An urban proletariat
A third major change in the post-war period was the transformation of the Māori labour force. In 1945 most Māori workers were concentrated in primary industry, but by the 1970s most were in manufacturing jobs. Meanwhile, the non-Māori labour force had increasingly moved into higher-paying, higher-status jobs in the tertiary sector. These labour-force shifts were a key factor in improving Māori social and economic wellbeing.
Though the Māori labour force was disadvantaged relative to Pākehā, the shift out of primary industry provided access to more stable and better-paid work. This changed from the mid-1980s, when economic restructuring reduced the manufacturing sector and Māori disproportionately bore the brunt of job losses. Not all were able to find new lines of work. Some returned to rural homelands; others migrated to Australia.