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War Economy

Wartime Influences on Population Growth

Wartime Influences on Population Growth

The aftermath of depression had led to a net loss through migration in each of the years 1931–32 to 1936–37. The year 1938–39 was only the second time in over a decade when there had been a net annual inflow near the long-term New Zealand average of between 4000 and 5000 a year. The net inflow, apart from troop movements, was just over 6000 in 1939–40, but war conditions then had their effect, and the net increase due to migration averaged less than 400 a year for the following four years. It was not to reach 5000 again until 1947–48.

Marriage rates were naturally affected by war conditions. Straitened circumstances had reduced them to as low as 6·8 per thousand of population in the two depression years, 1931 and 1932. Thereafter they had shown a steady rate of increase right through to 1938. In 1939 and 1940, wartime influences pushed up marriage rates to record levels of over 11 per thousand. Thereafter, with men serving overseas in increasing numbers, the marriage rate fell sharply to 8·7 per thousand in 1941 and then declined steadily to 7·5 per thousand in 1943. However, marriage rates did not fall as low as they had done in the depression years 1931, 1932 and 1933.

With the return of men from overseas, the marriage rate again stepped up, until it reached an all-time record of over 12 per thousand in 1946.

Birth rates, though they had been increasing, were still low up to the outbreak of war. For 1939 the birth rate was 19 per thousand of population, but it accelerated in the early war years, to reach nearly 23 per thousand for 1941. Then the absence of men on overseas service had its effect and the rate declined until 1943. All this, however, occurred during a period when the trend in birth rates was upward, and it is interesting to note that, with recovery after 1943, the rate for the year 1945 reached over 23 per thousand, at which stage it was at its highest level for any year since 1921.

Chart 76 shows changes in marriage rates and birth rates.

The wartime setback to the recovery in the birth rate was less than might have been expected. It was war casualties and a reduced page 445 migration inflow which slowed down population growth; 11,625 men made the supreme sacrifice; the migration inflow was over 4000 a year below normal. The check occurred mainly in the labour force. Those killed on active service were fit men of working age. They would still have been in the labour force after the war.1 Migration usually contains a high proportion of males of working age. The combined effect of war casualties and lower migration was to reduce the size of the labour force relative to the population, and this may well have been one of the reasons why the labour shortage, which developed in the war years, continued into the post-war decade. By the 1950s, the growth of the labour force was to receive a further check when the inflow of younger workers was reduced as an aftermath of the low birth rates around 1935.

chart of marriage and birth statistics

Chart 76

The numbers of New Zealanders actually living in New Zealand during the war were reduced by departures of servicemen overseas, and falls were recorded in 1940 and 1941, with very large increases in 1945 and 1946 when servicemen returned. There would have been quite a large increase in 1942, also, had arrivals of United page 446 States servicemen been included in New Zealand population records.

By December 1946, when most men serving overseas had returned, the population reached 1,780,000. The increase over the preceding eight years had been 160,000, an average of 20,000 a year. This was equivalent to an annual growth rate of 12 per thousand of population; lower than for any similar period except for the depression of the 1930s, and well below the long-term average of over twenty per thousand.

1 17,000 were wounded. See also pp. 5401 where effects on the post-war labour force are discussed more fully.