A Century of Censuses: Dwellings and Households

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Report by NewsroomPlus.com

This week Statistics New Zealand released a set of information it has titled: A century of censuses: Long-term trends from the Census of Population and Dwellings to 2013.

This shows that at the most recent census in 2013, there were on average 2.7 people in each occupied dwelling – nearly half the number from 1886, when 5.2 people was the average.

The analysis also shows that the number of dwellings has increased by around seven times in the past hundred years – from 238,066 to over 1.5 million – while in the same period, the general population has approximately quadrupled.

Statistics NZ researcher Rosemary Goodyear says there are several reasons why fewer people are living under the same roof. “Households have changed. Our families are smaller, and – partly because of our ageing population – there are more couple-only and one-person households.”

In 2013, New Zealand also had its lowest home ownership rate since the 1950s. The rate peaked in the 1986 and 1991 Censuses.

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Changing familes. The photo at left is of the Sanft family 1911 (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 31-68953) and the diverse family photo at right is sourced from teara.govt.nz

A CENTURY OF CENSUSES – DWELLINGS AND HOUSEHOLDS (extracted from Stats.govt.nz )

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Occupied private dwellings, 1916–2013

  • Although the number of dwellings in New Zealand has been collected since the first New Zealand census in 1858, we only have information about occupied private dwellings since 1916.
  • In 1916, there were 238,066 occupied private dwellings in New Zealand and 5,011 occupied non-private dwellings.
  • By 2013, the census recorded over 1.5 million occupied private dwellings – almost seven times the number in 1916.

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Number of people per dwelling, 1867–2013

  • The average number of people per occupied private dwelling or household has fallen from a peak of 5.2 in 1886, to 2.7 in 2013.
  • Over time the average number of people per dwelling has fallen, due largely to smaller families, and people living longer – resulting in more couple-only and one-person households. The average number peaked in the 1880s, at just over 5.2.
  • In 2013, the average number of people per household was 2.7 per dwelling, which has remained largely unchanged since 2001.
  • Until the 2006 census, figures are for occupied private dwellings, and from 2006 onwards figures are for all people living in households (which excludes the small number of private dwellings where all occupants were visitors).

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Types of joined private dwellings, 1926 Census

  • In 1926, more than 9 in 10 dwellings were separate houses.
  • The 1926 Census was the first census that collected detailed information about dwelling structures, including whether a dwelling was separate or joined to another dwelling.
  • Of the permanent private dwellings in 1926, over 9 in 10 were structurally separate. Of the 8.4 percent that were joined, there were a range of categories.
  • Dwellings attached to post offices and police stations were separated from dwellings attached to shops or businesses. This reflects the higher number of post offices and police stations around New Zealand at that time, as these made up 0.4 percent of all permanent private dwellings (1,166 dwellings).
  • There are some issues when considering this data over time. Because of changes to dwelling classifications, there are inconsistencies between years, particularly around the classification of flats. We think that may have led to an over-representation of separate (stand-alone) dwellings, particularly in 2013

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Types of occupied private dwellings, 1926 and 2013 Censuses

  • The proportion of stand-alone houses in New Zealand has fallen since 1926.
  • In 1926, 4.5 percent of all dwellings were temporary dwellings. This category included outstation huts, whares, work camps, tents, and temporary adaptations of other buildings. After 1926, census schedules did not specify what was included in temporary dwelling types.
  • In 2013, we included some of the types of dwellings that had previously been identified in separate categories – such as baches, and dwellings joined to a business or shop – in the ‘not further defined’ category.

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Unoccupied dwellings, 1891–2013

  • 2013 had the highest rate of unoccupied dwellings in over a century.
  • The high rate of unoccupied dwellings in 2013 was largely driven by the increase in unoccupied dwellings in Canterbury. The increase in Canterbury was likely to be a result of the damage to houses caused by the 2010/11 earthquakes. Some of the unoccupied houses would have been uninhabitable, while others may have been vacated for repair.
  • In 2013, 10.6 percent of dwellings were unoccupied nationally, compared with 9.7 at the previous census and 6.6 percent in 1911.
  • In census statistics, a dwelling is defined as unoccupied if it is unoccupied at all times during the 12 hours following midnight on the night of the data collection, and suitable for habitation.

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Main materials of outer walls of dwelling, 1861–1981

  • Wood was the most common material used for the outer walls of New Zealand houses in the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • The census collected information about the material used to construct outer walls of dwellings for 120 years, from 1861 to 1981.
  • In 1861 the census recorded 22,398 occupied dwellings, including over 6,000 made from canvas or other materials.
  • There were more dwellings made from raupō or bullrush (630) than from stone or brick (477).
  • Wood was the most common material for the outer walls in 1861 and in subsequent years. Around 9 out of 10 dwellings in New Zealand were made from wood throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • The proportion of wooden dwellings fell in the mid-20th century as more dwellings were constructed from ‘permanent’ materials such as brick and concrete. By 1981, just under half (49.1 percent) of permanent private dwellings were clad in wood. Although we do not have census data for subsequent years, the 2010 Building Research Institute of New Zealand (BRANZ) housing condition survey showed that less than half (47.0 percent) of dwellings were clad in wood.
  • Over time, the proportion of dwellings clad in brick, stone, or concrete has grown. In 1911, 4.3 percent of walls in dwellings were made from brick, stone, or concrete. This rose to 32.5 percent in 1981.
  • Wallboards of asbestos were also a popular building material in the mid-20th century. In 1961, 9.1 percent of dwellings had asbestos cladding.

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Home ownership, 1916–2013

  • The Census of Population and Dwellings first collected information on home ownership and renting in 1916, during World War I.
  • Home ownership rose during the 1920s but fell after the Great Depression. It rose fairly steadily during the 1950s, and peaked in 1986 and 1991, at 73.5 percent (as a percentage of private dwellings). If we just consider households, then the peak was 73.8 percent of households owning their dwelling in 1991.
  • By 2013, home ownership had fallen to 64.8 percent of households – the lowest rate since 1951 (when 61.5 percent of private dwellings were owned).
  • The questions around home ownership, and categories for collection, have changed slightly over the years. For example, from 1926 to 1971 we asked about the type of mortgage (flat or table mortgage or under-time payment).
  • Defining home ownership became more complicated after family trusts became more popular in New Zealand. Data from 2006 onwards includes information about whether a dwelling is held in a family trust. For the purposes of this time series, households where the dwelling is held in a family trust have been included under the ownership category.
  • From 2001, census also included a question about individual home ownership (tenure holder).

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Number of households who rented their home, 1916–2013

  • Renting has increased in recent years, with just under one-third of households renting in 2013, compared with just over one-quarter in 1991. In 1916, the first time we collected this data, almost half of all private dwellings (46.8 percent) were rented.
  • In 2013, 453,135 households (31.2 percent) rented the dwelling they lived in. A further 53,889 households did not own their dwelling but paid no rent.
  • We do not have information about the rental status of a further 5,088 households.

(This extract was compiled by the production team of Shereel Patel and Rupeni Vatubuli).

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

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