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Fewer people died in 2020, and lockdown may have helped, Stats NZ reports

Fewer people died in New Zealand last year compared to 2019. At the same time, the country’s birth rate has dropped to the lowest on record.

Queen Street in Auckland. Source: istock.com

According to Stats NZ data released today, the country recorded 32,613 deaths in 2020, a five per cent reduction compared to 2019.

Population estimates and projections manager Hamish Slack said while a drop in the number of deaths happened “from time to time” despite New Zealand’s growing and aging population, the latest fall coincided with Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

“Alert level restrictions — including stay-at-home instructions, limits on travel and increased hygiene awareness — may have played a part in the reduced number of deaths,” Slack said.

Typically, deaths increased in the cooler months between April and September.

But, in 2020, the number of deaths registered in the cooler months (16,449) were similar to the warmer months (16,164). Between April and September last year, there were 1848 fewer deaths than the same period in 2019.

Overseas, Covid-19 had caused "excess mortality" across all ages, with England, Wales and Spain some of the hardest hit

"Excess morality" refers to the number of deaths from all causes above what is expected under "normal" conditions. 

Lockdown baby boom?

New Zealand's fertility rate also fell to 1.61 births per woman.

That means a Kiwi woman would average about 1.61 births over her lifetime. It falls below 2.1, the rate needed for population replacement.

In 2020, 57,753 live births were registered, down three per cent from the previous year.

That’s despite a two per cent increase in the number of women of reproductive age between 15 to 49.

Fertility rates have been decreasing in the country since 2012, Slack said.

“Since 2013, the number of women of reproductive age has increased by 11 per cent and the number of births has decreased by two per cent.”

The combination of fewer births and an increase in women of the age contributed to the record-low fertility rate.

Any indication of a lockdown-induced baby boom from August last year would become clearer in May, Slack said.

But the country’s population continued increasing through migration and due to more people being born than dying.