Waikato's youth an 'endangered species'

AARON LEAMAN AND JONATHAN CARSON
Last updated 07:59 24/07/2013
aging waikato population
MARK TAYLOR/Fairfax NZ

Waikato girl: Virginia Pak has no desire to leave the region despite experts pointing to Auckland swallowing up increasing numbers of younger people. ‘‘Most of our friends go and then come back here because it’s a good city,’’ she says.

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Urgent planning is needed to prepare Waikato's communities for a grey future with the elderly expected to soon outnumber the young in many centres, a leading academic has warned.

Waikato University professor of demography Natalie Jackson told the Local Government New Zealand conference in Hamilton on Monday that Auckland would take the lion's share of population growth in the coming decades, leaving regions further south with an imbalance of older residents.

In 36 per cent of New Zealand's territorial authorities, populations had declined since 1996. Globally, the world's population is expected to peak at 9.26 billion, with the ''end of growth'' predicted to occur later this century. 

New Zealand's high birth rate has buffeted it from a global trend of declining population growth in developed countries, but the ageing of the country's populace was inevitable.

Prof Jackson said a  shrinking population would have an impact on councils' ability to provide essential services, but it was also of concern to anyone who owned a house or business or employed people.

The  presentation was supported by a wealth of population statistics and projections, and came with a warning that young people could become an ''endangered species''.

The number of people aged 65 or more is expected to increase 49 per cent nationwide between 2011 and 2031, while numbers in all other age groups is expected to decline by 3.9 per cent during the same period.

In Thames-Coromandel the number of elderly overtook the number of children in 2001. The same scenario is expected  in Matamata Piako, Taupo and Waipa in 2021.

Prof Jackson said a national plan was needed to prepare communities for the increasing number of elderly.

 ''Your local trouble is a national issue.'' 

Although moving manufacturing overseas could produce small savings, she said, the subsequent job losses could speed up the decline of small towns.

HAMILTON 'CITY TO CALL HOME'

Virginia Pak is a young woman who knows more than most about the region's ageing population.

She takes care of the elderly for a living.

The Hamilton-born 25-year-old is a nurse at Trevellyn Lifestyle Care and Village, a retirement village, rest home and hospital.

She's likely to have no shortage of work over the next two decades as the number of people aged over 65 is expected to increase by 49 per cent nationwide.

But despite the prediction that the elderly will soon outnumber the young in the Waikato as the population ages and young people leave, Miss Pak says she's putting down roots in Hamilton.

She has just bought a house, near a kindergarten and school, with her partner in the suburb of Whitiora.

"It's a nice atmosphere. Both our parents are here so, for us, it's where our family is and where all our friends are. Most of our friends go and then come back here because it's a good city and it is building. You can see all the development happening while we've been here and they keep telling us that it's the fastest growing city, which it is, you can see that.

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"We don't really want to move. We hate the whole rush hour traffic everywhere else and Hamilton's so good that you can get from each side of town within 20 minutes."

There is a perception that Hamilton is not a lot of fun for the young, but Miss Pak disagrees. It's central to several main centres - Auckland, Tauranga - it's less than an hour's drive to each coast and it's surrounded by mountains. We've got a good university, we've got the stadium, we've got all of that stuff going on," she said. "It's the city of the future."

Other young people who were thinking about ditching the region should recognise the potential here.

"There're still heaps of people that want to come here and study, which is good. But we need to hold on to them.

"You can see that the council is putting money in and developers are putting money in, but it's just a matter of waiting around for it to happen."

THE SILVER AGE

Population ageing is happening at different rates across New Zealand. This diversity is caused by different mixes in the drivers of population ageing: birth rates, longevity and migration.

Overall outcome of these processes is a shift to more elderly than children, more deaths than births and the end of growth and onset of what is expected to be permanent population decline – something not seen in modern populations until its recent onset in Japan and much of Europe.

For the Waikato region, the ratio of elderly (65+ years) to children (0-14 years) is projected to increase rapidly from its present 0.6 (six elderly for every 10 children) to 1.1 by 2031 (11 for every 10).

Both Hauraki and Thames-Coromandel already have more elderly than children. They will be joined by Matamata-Piako, Taupo and Waipa around 2021, South Waikato around 2026 and Otorohanga around 2031.

The cross-over is projected to occur in both the Waikato region and nationally from about 2026.

Source: Waikato Region and Districts Demographic Profile 1986-2031. Prepared by Professor Natalie Jackson.

- Waikato

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