A drawing of people of different ages and ethnicities. (Design: Tina Tiller)
Almost half of all Māori are aged under 25 years old. (Design: Tina Tiller)

ĀteaJune 10, 2024

The future of Aotearoa is entwined with the future of Māori

A drawing of people of different ages and ethnicities. (Design: Tina Tiller)
Almost half of all Māori are aged under 25 years old. (Design: Tina Tiller)

Nearly one in three under-25s are Māori, the latest census data revealed. How can New Zealand plan for this huge demographic shift today?

The latest census data has revealed that Māori make up almost one in five of the country’s population, and the Māori population is growing at double the rate of the general population. For those under 25 years old, nearly one in three are of Māori descent. This means that as the population ages, there will be a significant demographic shift that will shape the country’s future. So how can we ensure the growing number of rangatahi are supported to reach their full potential?

In the 2023 census, a total of 978,246 people said they were of Māori descent, accounting for around 20% of the 4,933,923 respondents – a 12.5% increase on 2018. Almost half of all Māori are aged under 25 years old, with the median Māori age 27.2, compared to 38.1 for non-Māori.

“We will be a bigger part of the workforce and so there has to be greater investment and understanding of the outcomes and the current return on social investment,” says Kirikowhai Mikaere, pou ārahi for Te Kāhui Raraunga, a Māori-led independent charitable trust focused on data.

A big part of that is education. With ongoing updates to the national curriculum, there is a chance to better include Māori perspectives. Providing rangatahi with good education and vocational training now is key to ensuring a quality future workforce and fostering economic growth in the future.

Encouraging young Māori to stay in Aotearoa will be another key challenge. With the high cost of living and tough economic situation here, a large number of young New Zealanders are leaving in search of greener pastures. Migrants aged 18 to 30 years old accounted for 39% or 29,300 of the 74,800 migrant departures of New Zealand citizens in 2023. That works out to roughly 205 people leaving the country every day – 80 of them in the 18-30 age bracket. 

“We have to think about how we’re making Aotearoa a really inspiring place to stay,” Mikaere says.

Kirikowhai Mikaere.
Kirikowhai Mikaere.

The potential for this demographic to unlock its economic potential depends on how we are supporting Māori entrepreneurship and innovation. By investing in things that nurture Māori business and easing access to money and markets, Aotearoa can use the shift in our population’s age structure to help grow our economy. Empowering young Māori by nurturing their skills and creating more employment opportunities can help foster a more inclusive and thriving economy overall.

With a large population of rangatahi and the widespread presence of kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa Māori and wharekura, there is also a chance for the continued revitalisation and preservation of Māori culture, language and traditions. The shift can help strengthen Māori identity, supported by educational and community initiatives that celebrate and support Māori cultural practices. By promoting cultural awareness and appreciation, Aotearoa can grow its national identity and ensure mātauranga and tikanga Māori are passed down through the generations.

“We have to have a big mind shift about the opportunity that diversity of thought from our youth population can bring in terms of where we want to head to,” says Mikaere.

Addressing systemic inequalities in education, employment and healthcare is crucial for young Māori, says Mikaere. Implementing policies now to close these gaps will create a more inclusive society, with equal opportunities for all young people.

Technology and digital inclusion could have transformative opportunities for rangatahi, enhancing digital literacy and access to technology to bridge the digital divide. This can open pathways to innovation and entrepreneurship, putting Māori in the lead of technological advancements and economic growth.

“I think there’s a real opportunity in terms of our mātauranga and that will require us to be very intentional about the developments that we take on,” Mikaere says.

An interesting point Mikaere highlights is that in some regions, there are much higher proportions of young Māori. She says this means the change in needs will be felt much sooner and require more immediate attention from those in charge.

“I think it’s important for national and local policymakers, decision-makers and business owners to understand and be mindful of where our population is growing a lot faster,” says Mikaere.

“Strategic investments are needed in the right services, in the right places for the right people, to make sure Aotearoa has a solid Māori workforce in the future that doesn’t just contribute to the Māori community, but actually supports the Aotearoa economy.”

The policy decisions being made today will undeniably impact the country in the years ahead, meaning the future prosperity of Aotearoa depends on today’s leaders recognising the importance of fostering the country’s younger population.

This is Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ On Air.

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