Statistics New Zealand and the “population ponzi”

In the last few years, Statistics New Zealand has taken to “spinning” its statistical releases.  I use the term advisedly.  I’m sure all the numbers are reported entirely accurately, but my issue is more with which numbers, and which comparisons, they choose to highlight.  Almost always, they seem to emphasise what staff (and management?) presumably regard as good news.  Is that quite the job of a national statistics agency?  Personally, I value good quality data, and technical explanations for apparent oddities –  and the assurance that SNZ has no agenda other than good quality data, adequately explained.  There are plenty of others out there (backbenchers in parliamentary questions?) to highlight the good, or not so good.

The latest example came this morning, with the population data release below.

It might be mildly interesting to know that population growth in the last year outstripped that even in  –  much richer and more successful –  Australia.  But SNZ seems to think this is “a good thing” –  if anything reporting it as something of a race.   Fortunately, we aren’t  early 20th century France needing to stress about the growing military threat from a larger neighbouring country’s faster population growth.  And if we want to celebrate success, I’d suggest doing it using measures of per capita living standards (however you want to define them) or even productivity.  But leave it to the commentators and politicians to do the cheerleading.

Just to illustrate the apparent “good news bias”, SNZ put another release this morning.  Real retail sales rose only 0.1 per cent in the June quarter.  But there was no mention of what happened in Australia.  I checked, and in Australia the comparable series rose by 0.8 per cent in June quarter.  In per capita terms, I guess that gap is a little larger still.

SNZ does a pretty good job with the inadequate resources they have, but I’d urge then to leave the editorialising to journalists, commentators, politicians and the like.

Population growth outpaces Australia’s – Media release

14 August 2015

New Zealand’s population is growing at its fastest rate for over a decade, and is exceeding Australia’s growth rate, according to new estimates released by Statistics New Zealand today.

The country’s population grew by 86,900 people, or 1.9 percent, in the year to 30 June 2015. This came from net migration (arrivals minus departures) of 58,300, and natural increase (births minus deaths) of 28,700. New Zealand’s estimated resident population was 4.6 million at 30 June 2015. The latest figures
show Australia’s population growing at 1.4 percent a year.

“The last time New Zealand’s population grew at this rate was in 2003 when the increase was 2 percent,” population statistics manager Vina Cullum said. “The last time New Zealand’s growth rate exceeded Australia’s was 2004.”

One thought on “Statistics New Zealand and the “population ponzi”

  1. Given that a lot of the population growth is going into Auckland and contributing to house price increases I would think that there is a range of views on whether population growth is a good thing or not.

    I agree, SNZ should just provide the data. They really shouldn’t have a PR team to spin the news. Perhaps it’s an attempt to counteract the tendency for people to start yawning when they hear the word statistics.


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