AT the outbreak of war 1,630,000 people were living in New Zealand, and their numbers were increasing by about 20,000 a year. The population growth rate had started to increase, after falling very low in the depression and the immediately following years. However, by 1939 it had reached only 12 per thousand of the existing population, which was still slow compared with the long-term New Zealand average of over twenty per thousand.
Maoris now numbered 90,000. Since 1921 they had increased faster than the rest of the population.1
In the period from the 1926 population census to the 1936 census the annual rate of population increase in New Zealand had been less than 11 per thousand. This was the lowest increase rate for any inter-censal period in the history of New Zealand and was largely attributable to two effects of the depression of the thirties. Delayed marriages had pulled down the birth rate, and there had been a net loss to the population through migration.
These depression influences were to affect the population age structure significantly for a very long time. The low birth rates of the years around 1935, leading to a relatively small contingent of children in the population during the war years, took some of the strain off the education system, and to this extent made wartime burdens easier to bear. In post-war years these children were to become a relatively small contingent entering the labour force, and were to have a quite different effect. By slowing up the rate page 444 of growth of the labour force compared with the population, they would increase the relative burden of dependent population on the labour force.
Well into the 1960s, and probably for the rest of the twentieth century, the low birth rates of the middle thirties would remain the greatest single influence on the population age structure.
1 According to census records the Maori population suffered a period of almost unbroken decline from 1858 to 1896. Warfare amongst the tribes and with the European settlers, and the susceptibility of the Maori to epidemic and other diseases introduced with the settlers, contributed to the decline. After 1896 the Maori population increased continuously. In 1921 its rate of growth per thousand outstripped that of the rest of the population and by the 1960s was to be nearly twice as fast.