When record numbers aren't records at all

Pundit member Carolyn points out that the number of Kiwis leaving for Australia might not be as catastrophic as some media – and politicians – suggest. A population expert replies to her questions

A reader, Carolyn, writes:

I have some questions about the headlines being made out of these statistics about arrivals and departures to and from NZ during the last year. It headlines record numbers, yet the population size is about 1 million people more in 2007 over 1989 (1989- 3,369,800: 2007 - 4,252,600). So it is not a record in terms of proportion of the population - I think a close high proportional level but not a record.

Here at Pundit we were wondering the same thing when we read the Herald on Thursday. Under the headline 'Record numbers leaving for Australia', the paper reported:

New Zealanders are leaving for Australia in record numbers, while the flow of immigrants and tourists coming here has slumped.

So we put the question to Prof. Richard Bedford, Director of the Population Studies Centre at Waikato University. He kindly replied from Prato (yes, Prato, Tuscany, Italy, the lucky begger), where he's attending a conference. He says:

I agree with your reader though that we do not have record levels of migration to Australia in per capita terms -- that record remains with the late 1970s when our population was at least a million smaller than it is now.  I  have made a similar point to the one made by your reader on occasion over the past few months in response to requests for comment on trans-Tasman migration from different media. The movements of New Zealanders to Australia have increased, but we need to recall that they fluctuate and we were having higher levels of return from Australia a few years ago than we had had for a while as well.

Carolyn also pointed out that while more people are moving to Australia, fewer are moving to Britain and Ireland:

Also I notice, looking at the latest Stats NZ tables, that there has been a drop in permament long term departures to the UK (-10.3% for the year; -14.8 for the last quarter), to Ireland (-10.8 for the year; - 18.6 for the last quarter).  This amounts to about 1,300 people less leaving NZ permanently for the UK & Ireland in the last year.)  So has there just been a shift from the UK to Aussie as a desirable destination?

Richard hasn't seen these figures, but suggests that as our population ages, a smaller proportion of long-term leavers will be 20-somethings off to the UK on their OE. In other words, what I think he's getting at is that as we have a proportionately older population it's only natural that more of them will retire to Queensland! Anyway, here's what he really said:

I haven't looked at that one closely but given that a very large share of the PLT outflow of NZers to the UK is people aged between 20-29 who are eligible for visas to work there for a couple of years, the changing age composition of NZ's population (and the ethnic mix of the younger population) as our population ages is going to have some impact on the patterns of outmigration.

All useful points to consider, before we get our knickers in a twist thinking that we're losing our 'best and brightest' like never before. Thanks Carolyn and Richard.