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NZ’s dip below population replacement level a chance to discuss priorities — academic

Aotearoa dipping below the so-called population replacement level is a chance for a discussion about what the country’s population should be, a leading academic says.

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Many countries around the world have reached 'peak' population levels. Source: Seven Sharp

Professor Paul Spoonley from Massey University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences told Seven Sharp there are two major reasons New Zealand’s level has dipped below the average of 2.1 children per woman.

“The decline in fertility kicked in around 2014. There are two major factors: one is the growing educational credentials of women and the other is that they are very much involved in our labour market so they’re doing jobs,” he said.

“I think the other thing is that the cost of living has just gone up and so we are really looking at two-income households if you want to live in a major centre.”

Spoonley said that while de-population can be a positive environmentally, it brings issues of its own.

"Yes, it will [help with overpopulation and infrastructure] but if you want to look at depopulation, have a look at Germany or Japan and look at the issues they’re beginning to face. That older population, how do you care for them? Who cares for them? It’s called who’s going to wipe my chin syndrome,” Spoonley said.

“You’ve got a whole lot of industries and services which begin to collapse so de-population is not something we’ve experienced before and we need to look at those countries who are already beginning to experience that and say, 'What do we want to happen in New Zealand?' And, of course, there is something we can do, and that’s immigration.”

Governments around the world have tried and failed with measures, which range from tax breaks for parents to advertising campaigns, to kick-start fertility, Spoonley said.

“In Poland, for example, Viktor Orbán has said if you have four or more children you don’t pay income tax for the rest of your life. Hasn’t worked," he said.

"So, I just think we’ve got to think about what our options are and Jeremy’s made a good point around the environmental impact of a growing population.

“So we should probably have a chat about this. What should be our population growth? What should our population look like?”