Where are the biggest households?

Social issues stemming from deteriorating housing affordability and a lack of new homes have been key topics of debate over recent years. Census 2018 helps show where in New Zealand household occupancy rates have deteriorated the most since 2013.

There were just under 1.7 million occupied private dwellings in New Zealand in Census 2018, which housed 4.7 million New Zealanders. These figures translate into an average occupancy rate of 2.82 people per dwelling. By comparison, in Census 2013, the average occupancy rate of private dwellings was 2.72.

This expansion to the size of the average household goes against what had been predicted from demographic trends. An aging population and lower birth rates would generally pull-down average household sizes. But these demographic trends have been offset by a migration-induced acceleration to population growth. This migration has been driven by both foreigners coming to live in New Zealand and more New Zealanders returning home.

The building sector has failed to cope with these population pressures. We have simply not built enough houses for our growing, but aging population. Furthermore, what is being built is unaffordable to many.

The table below highlights which parts of New Zealand have had the sharpest deteriorations to household size between Census 2013 and 2018. The expansion to household size is most acute in Queenstown-Lakes District – the place that has had twin pressures of the fastest population growth in the country, coupled with the most expensive houses.

Other areas to have had the biggest increases in household size are generally in the upper North Island. Many of these places have experienced rapid increases to house prices, as pricing pressures spillover from their more expensive urban neighbours.

Few places have seen a reduction to average household size. Areas where households are getting smaller generally have older-than-average populations and in most cases have housing that is affordable.