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Ethnolinguistic diversity in New Zealand: A socioeconomic analysis

Louisa Buckingham ORCID logo


Changes in New Zealand’s immigration policy from the 1980s onwards contributed to growing diversity in the source country of migrants, and has transformed the ethnolinguistic composition of the country’s population in recent decades. The number of people who speak non-official languages is increasing, while the proportion of the English-speaking monolingual population is gradually decreasing. Many immigrants have been unable to integrate into the local labour market at levels commensurate with their qualifications and prior experience, however, and previous studies have noted the institutional and attitudinal hurdles to their integration. This study employs data from five censuses between 1996 and 2018 to explore the socio-economic characteristics of individuals who speak non-official languages (grouped according to the extent of their reported multilingualism), compared with monolingual English speakers and the total population. Competence in non-official languages is increasingly becoming an Asian-related phenomenon in terms of birthplace and ethnic and religious affiliations. The more multilingual cohorts displayed substantially higher levels of educational qualifications than other groups, and a strong increase in the proportion employed over this timespan. Modest income levels nevertheless indicate enduring underemployment. Indicators from the last two census years suggest improved workplace integration of ethnolinguistically diverse individuals.

Corresponding author: Louisa Buckingham, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand, E-mail:


I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the COMPASS Research Centre, Faculty of Arts, University of Auckland, in obtaining access to, shaping, and analysing the census unit-record data for the Statistics New Zealand data between 1996 and 2018.

  1. Disclaimer: Access to the census data used in this study was provided by Statistics New Zealand under conditions designed to give effect to the security and confidentiality provisions of the Statistics Act 1975. The results presented in this study are the work of the author, not Statistics NZ.


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Published Online: 2020-10-28
Published in Print: 2020-11-26

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