Overview of historic and future population growth, migration, and location of population.

The overall size and location of a population has a major impact on the city. It directly affects land use patterns, air quality, solid waste generation and water quality. It can also influence the size and composition of the labour force, place pressure on existing social services and recreational facilities, and alter demand for goods and services.

Current Population – Christchurch, Waimakariri and Selwyn

At June 2017 Christchurch City's estimated resident population was 381,500. This is higher than before the earthquakes, and is an increase of 6,100 people from June 2016.

Between 2016 and 2017 the city's estimated population increased by 1.7 per cent, slightly lower than the national average of 2.1 per cent.

Prior to the 2010/2011 earthquakes, population growth was relatively steady, averaging 1 per cent growth per year. In the two years following the 2010/2011 earthquakes, the overall population of Christchurch City decreased by 21,200 (-6 per cent). The estimated population has increased annually since July 2012 and has now surpassed the population prior to the earthquake series (376,300).

Estimated annual population since 1986

Estimated annual population since 1986


Annual numeric population change since 1986

Annual numeric population change since 1986 

Waimakariri and Selwyn districts

At June 2017, neighbouring Selwyn District had an estimated 59,300 residents and neighbouring Waimakariri an estimated 59,200 residents. Together they make up almost 25 per cent of the total population of all three districts in Greater Christchurch

Between 2016 and 2017, Selwyn and Waimakariri Districts experienced the second and eleventh fastest growth in the country respectively (out of 67 territorial authorities). Selwyn District's annual increase was 5.7 per cent while Waimakariri District's was 2.5 per cent (compared with 2.1 per cent for the whole country). Combined the population growth was 4,500 new residents, compared with Christchurch City's 6,500 new residents. 

Location of residents

In Christchurch City, the area units (suburbs) with the highest population density in 2013 were located near the university (Riccarton, Upper Riccarton, Ilam); just north of the central city (Edgeware and St Albans); and just east of the central city (Linwood).

Outside of Christchurch City, the townships of Rangiora and Kaiapoi (Waimakariri District) and Rolleston (Selwyn District) were the most densely populated areas of their respective districts.

map of population density

Population density by area unit (suburb), 2013

Earthquake impacts

Between 2006 and 2013, area units in the Greater Christchurch area experienced significant changes in population due to two key factors: the 2010–2011 earthquakes, and new housing developments in formerly rural-zoned greenfield areas.

Population loss:
The areas that experienced the greatest losses of population are those associated with the residential red zone in Christchurch (predominantly located along the Avon River- starting within the Four Avenues and leading out to the Estuary- as well as parts of the Port Hills) and in Waimakariri (by the Kaiapoi River). The area units with the greatest numeric loss of population were Avondale, Burwood, Bexley and Dallington– each losing over 1700 people. Three area units (Burwood, Cathedral Square and Kaiapoi East) each lost over half of their 2006 population.

Population gain:
Rapid population growth has occurred in greenfield areas on the outskirts of the city. Some area units more than doubled their 2006 population, including Aidanfield and Yaldhurst in Christchurch City; Rolleston North West and Rolleston South West in Selwyn District; and Pegasus, Camside and Lehmans in Waimakariri District. Other Christchurch City area units with high numeric gains in population were Wigram and Belfast South– with each gaining over 1000 people between 2006 and 2013. 

map showing population change by area unit (suburb)

Numeric population change by area unit (suburb), 2006–2013

Migration to Christchurch

The earthquakes resulted in a net loss of around 20,000 migrants, but the city's ongoing recovery and rebuild opportunities have since resulted in net migration gains.

Overall migration

Prior to the 2010–2011 earthquake series, migration contributed to the majority of population growth in the city. In the five years to 30 June 2006, it is estimated the population increased by 26,500 residents. Almost 70 per cent of this was due to net migration gains (18,100 residents), while the remainder was due to natural increase. Following the earthquakes, Christchurch had a net migration loss of 21,000 people (in the five years to 30 June 2013).

As the city recovers, migration gains will once again be greater than the losses, with a projected net gain of 22,500 migrants for the period 2013 to 2018. A further net gain of 12,500 migrants is projected between 2018 and 2023, before stabilising at 6,000 for each five year period until 2043, while natural increase slows over the same period.

Chart showing components of population change since 2001

Components of population change, 2001–2043

Internal migration

Based on census data, between 2008 and 2013, Christchurch City had a net loss of 14,500 residents to other parts of New Zealand – its highest net internal migration loss on record for a five year period. Around 45,500 people moved from Christchurch City to elsewhere in New Zealand, while almost 31,000 people moved to Christchurch City from elsewhere in New Zealand. Some of these movements would have taken place prior to the 2010–2011 earthquakes, but the earthquakes undoubtedly contributed towards such a significant overall population loss.

The largest overall net population losses were to the surrounding districts of Selwyn and Waimakariri (losing a net 4,450 and 3,350 people respectively), the Auckland District (3,300), and the Nelson/Marlborough area (1,100). There were some small overall population gains from smaller regional areas.

Chart of net migration flow to and from Christchurch City

Net migration flows to and from Christchurch City, 2008–2013

Christchurch City has been losing population to neighbouring Waimakariri and Selwyn districts for decades, with the greatest net population loss to each occurring in the 2008–2013 period. They are both fast-growing districts (Selwyn was the country’s fastest-growing territorial authority between 2006 and 2013, and has the highest projected average annual growth rate nationally) with much of each district's growth taking place in the greenfield areas located within easy commuting distance to and from Christchurch City.

Chart of net migration flows between Christchurch and other Canterbury districts

Net migration flows between Christchurch and other Canterbury districts

External migration

Over the last two decades, Christchurch City has generally experienced annual net external migration gains (i.e. more people moving to Christchurch from overseas than people leaving Christchurch for overseas), with the exception of a period in the late 1990s/early 2000s, and in the two years following the 2010–2011 earthquakes. Since 2012 there has been a return to positive net migration, which can largely be attributed to the Christchurch rebuild and the requirement for skilled workers to assist with the rebuild, particularly workers in construction, engineering and trades. Additionally, overseas factors have led to many New Zealand citizens returning to Christchurch. Between 1 July 2013 and 30 June 2017 there was a net external migration gain of 21,800 migrants. 

In the year to June 2017 there was a net gain of 5,600 migrants from overseas. This was the first year in the 26-year time series where there were more New Zealand citizens arriving in Christchurch from overseas than leaving for overseas (a net gain of 46 New Zealand citizens).

Net external migration by citizenship since 1992

Net external migration by citizenship since 1992.

Between 2002 and 2010, external migration to Christchurch City was largely driven by arrivals from England (a net gain of 7,100 people), Japan (a net gain of 3,900) and China (a net gain of 3,000).

Since the 2010–2011 earthquakes, the Philippines, India, China and UK (not further defined) have been the largest source of migrants to the city. There was a net gain of 5,100 migrants from the Philippines between 2011–2017, compared with 1,100 between 2002-2010.

In the four years to June 2017, Christchurch City recorded annual net gains from Australia, totalling 1,250 migrants. Prior to 2014, Christchurch experienced net losses to Australia annually in the time series dating back to 1992.

Net external migration by country of last permanent residence

Net external migration by country of last permanent residence (Top 10 based on 2017 values)

Future population – Christchurch, Waimakariri and Selwyn

By 2043 the city's population is projected to reach 459,100 (medium projection). This is 84,000 more people than at June 2016 (estimated population was 375,000).

Statistics New Zealand's projections suggest Christchurch City's population could be as low as 392,200 or as high as 526,800 depending on differing projection assumptions about fertility, mortality and migration. However, the medium projection of 459,100 is considered the most suitable figure for assessing future population, family and household changes.

Christchurch, Selwyn and Waimakariri projected population

Population projections series for Greater Christchurch, 2013–2043

Christchurch City’s population is projected to grow by, on average, 0.8 percent a year between 2013 and 2043, under the medium series. This is slightly lower than the average national growth rate of 1 percent a year. During the 30-year period, around 70 percent of the city's growth is projected to occur between 2013 and 2023, after which the growth rate slows. Population growth is also likely to slow in the long term throughout the whole country.

Waimakariri and Selwyn districts

Between 2013 and 2043 Selwyn District has the highest projected population growth rate in the whole country (an average annual increase of 2.6 per cent over the 30-year period) and the population is expected to more than double from 46,700 to 99,500.

Waimakariri District is projected to grow by around 60 per cent between 2013 and 2043, from 52,300 residents to 83,100. This is an average annual growth rate of 1.6 per cent, which is the third highest in the country after Selwyn and Queenstown-Lakes Districts.

Suburb, greenfield and central city growth

Most of Christchurch City's population growth is expected to occur within the residential greenfield priority areas identified in the LURP (page 23, shown in green). In the south-west of the city this includes Halswell and Wigram, while to the north this includes Belfast, Prestons and Sawyers Arms. The central city is also projected to experience significant growth, increasing from 5,150 in 2013 to 13,450 in 2043. This falls short of the government's long-term goal of 20,000 central city residents, as outlined in the Central City Recovery Plan(external link).

Future births and deaths

The city’s population is projected to grow due to both natural increase and net migration gains.

The growth in natural increase is largely due to the population ageing and life expectancies increasing. However, the gap between the number of births and deaths will narrow between 2013 and 2043. The number of births and deaths will both dip slightly between 2013 and 2018.

From 2018 onwards, the number of births will remain relatively constant (around 23,500 for each five-year period), while the number of deaths will increase for each five-year period, increasing from 14,000 to 19,300 by 2043.

Chart showing future births and deaths

Projected Births and Deaths, 2001–2043

Information about data used

Population estimates

Population estimates are produced annually, using data from the most recent census, and are updated for estimates of births, deaths and net migration since that last census. Population estimates since 1996 have been adjusted to account for the census undercount – those who do not fill out the census and those who are temporarily overseas. These estimates are based on the year to 30 June. Prior to 1996, population estimates excluded the census undercount and were based on the year to 31 March.

Source: Statistics New Zealand, Subnational Population Estimates (external link)

Population distribution

Population density is calculated by dividing the number of people in an area by the size of the area (usual residents per square hectare) and reflects the concentration of population. It is a way of standardising population data in order to compare different areas.

Source: Statistics New Zealand, 2013 Census of Population and Dwellings(external link)

Population projections

These projections have as a base the estimated resident population of each area at 30 June 2013. The projections are designed to meet both short-term and long-term planning needs, but are not designed to be exact forecasts or to project specific annual variation. These projections are based on assumptions made about future fertility, mortality, and migration patterns of the population. While the assumptions are formulated from an assessment of short-term and long-term demographic trends, there is no certainty that any of the assumptions will be realised. The projections do not take into account non-demographic factors (e.g. war, catastrophes, major government and business decisions) which may invalidate the projections.

These projections were initially released in February 2015 at the territorial authority and area unit level. In December 2016, 2013-base projection figures were updated for the territorial authority level only, which supersede the previous figures provided. Area unit projections will be updated in 2017, and until then, the sum total of all area units will differ to the updated Christchurch City total provided in December 2016 release.

Source: Statistics New Zealand, Subnational Population Projections, 2013(base)–2043(external link) (February 2015 Release); Subnational Population Projections, 2013(base)–2043 update