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Death statistics measure the number of deaths registered in New Zealand. Statistics New Zealand is the principal agency responsible for processing and publishing vital statistics in New Zealand, including death statistics. It seeks to provide information that meets the legal, public policy and community requirements for up-to date official statistics at the local, regional and national level.


Under the provisions of the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Act 1995, every death occurring in New Zealand must be registered.

Death statistics provide local authorities, health authorities, and research institutions with information needed to plan future and current social services. Within Statistics New Zealand, births and deaths data are used to calculate population estimates, population projections and life tables.

Citation Information



Alternate Title

Death Registrations, Vitals


Statistics New Zealand


Statistics New Zealand

Coverage Information

Temporal Coverage

  • 1848 to present

Topical Coverage

  • Health
  • Population
  • Death
  • Mortality
  • Infant mortality
  • Mortality rate
  • Vital statistics



Significant events impacting this study series

Important Dates Relating to Death Statistics

1844 - Vital Statistics first published as part of “Statistics of New Zealand” (blue book).

1847 - Registration Ordinance Act. This made provision for a record of births and deaths being kept by the state.

1848 - Non-compulsory registration of births and deaths introduced. Notification of births and deaths was compulsory.

1858 - The Registration Act. This act provided for compulsory registration of births, deaths and marriages.

1859 - Compulsory registration of births, deaths and marriages introduced.

1875 - The Registration of Births and Deaths Act. This act required further information regarding births and deaths to be provided at the time of registration.

1893 - New Zealand's Official Yearbook first published in its present form.

1910 - Collection of Vital Statistics entrusted to the Government Statistician (formerly the responsibility of the Registrar General).

1912 - Births and Deaths Registration Amendment Act. Established regulations for the registration of Māori births and deaths and also made provision for the registration of stillbirths.

1913 - Compulsory registration of Māori births and deaths established. Also compulsory registration of stillbirths established.

1914 - Monthly Abstract of Statistics first published.

1921 - Vital Statistics report first published. Previously vital statistics were published in the blue book.

1924 - Births and Deaths Registration Act. Consolidated and revised previous legislation regarding the registration of births and deaths.

1928 - New Zealand Pocket Digest of Statistics first published.

1949 - Medical Statistics Branch of National Health Institute was established. It was made responsible for compilation and analysis of mortality and morbidity statistics.

1951 - The Births and Deaths Registration Act. This act set down the regulations regarding birth and death registration.

1961 - The Births and Deaths Registration Amendment Act. This act repealed the definitions of a Māori with respect to birth and death registration.

1962 - Abolition of Māori births and deaths registers. The format of the Vital Statistics report was changed. All tables were now compiled for ‘Total Population’ and ‘Māori Population’ rather than ‘Non-Māori Population' and ‘Māori Population'.

1984 - Review Committee on Ethnic Statistics initiated by Government Statistician.

1986 - Last year of coding burials versus cremation from death form. Nobody required the information except perhaps the funeral directors.

1987 - Last year of publication of annual volume on vital statistics, some information incorporated into Demographic Trends.

1988 - The Review Committee on Ethnic Statistics produced a report which had significant implications for the collection of birth and death registration information.

1993 - Minor changes to the death registration form. Removal of the questions that were gender specific and replacement with gender neutral questions. Removal of “spinster”. (According to a letter from Brian Clarke, the Registrar General, changes authorised in March 1993, e.g. removal of spinster). Major effect on analysis of deaths by marital status.

1993 - Department of Justice requested that the category for recording whether a deceased person was buried or cremated be removed from death registration form (RG28). Statistics confirmed that it was no longer necessary.

1994 - The addition of a question on marital status at the time of death. This was as a result of problems caused by the removal of the term 'spinster' in 1993.

1995 - Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationship Act 1995. Introduced new birth and death registration forms. A major change was the introduction of new ethnicity and Māori descent questions (consistent with those used in the 1996 Census).

1995 - As part of government restructuring, the public registries group of Department of Justice was split up from October 1st. Internal Affairs was given responsibility for Births, Deaths and Marriages.

1996 - Following the 1996 Census of Population and Dwellings, Statistics New Zealand changed its standard statistical concept for deriving population estimates and projections from the de facto population to the resident population.

1998 - Ministry of Health ceased requiring vitals data from Statistics New Zealand. As a result some information was no longer coded (e.g. locality of death, deceased's occupation).

1998 - Internal Affairs computerised the vitals collection system from 1 January. Data now provided electronically to Statistics New Zealand and supply of birth, death and marriage registration forms phased out. Data from 1 July processed by Statistics New Zealand using new LAN-based system.

2005 - The March quarter HOTP was last release containing provisional data. From June quarter final data only will be published. From April 2005 the marital status question on the death registration form (BDM28) was changed to "relationship status at time of death". This means that de facto relationships and civil unions are now recorded. The ethnicity question was changed to that asked in the 2001 Census.

2006 - From 1 January 2006 ethnicity will be coded according to the 2005 ethnicity classification.

2006 - Banks Peninsula District amalgamated with Christchurch City on 6 March 2006. Births and deaths registered to people resident in the Banks Peninsula District prior to 6 March 2006 are included with the Christchurch City figures.

2008 - The number of infant deaths registered in the March 2008 quarter is higher than expected due to changes in the procedures used by the Department of Internal Affairs. About 30 infant deaths registered in the March 2008 quarter occurred between 2004 and 2006.

2014 - In May and June 2014 the Department of Internal Affairs registered a significant number (51) of neonatal (infants under 4 weeks of age) deaths that had occurred in 2011 and 2012. Therefore neonatal and infant (children under 1 year of age) deaths for the June 2014 quarter are higher than other periods, and 2011 and 2012 figures are lower than they would have been if these deaths were registered at the time they occurred.

For further information see “Usage and limitations of the data.”

2016 - Births and deaths data from the March 2016 year onwards has been randomly rounded to protect confidentiality. Individual figures may not add up to totals, and values for the same data may vary in different tables. Median ages from the March 2016 year data have been recalculated using randomly rounded data. We are committed to ensuring confidentiality by not releasing information that could identify individuals. Random rounding is used to disguise small counts, but all cells in a table are randomly rounded. Counts that are already a multiple of three are left unchanged. Those not a multiple of three are rounded to one of the two nearest multiples. For example, a one will be rounded to either a zero or a three. Each value in the table is rounded independently. This means counts may not sum to totals, but ensures that published totals are within two of the original number.

Usage and limitations of the data


Prior to September 1995

  • Prior to September 1995, the death registration form collected information on the degree of Māori or Pacific Island blood and the tribe or island of the deceased's mother and father. If the parents were not of Māori or Pacific Island descent no ethnic details were required. For statistical purposes this residual group was generally categorised as 'non-Māori', 'non-Pacific Island'. Because next of kin were required to give details of the deceased's parents this question often proved difficult to answer and in many instances went unanswered.
  • Deaths were classified as NZ Māori, Pacific Islander or non-NZ Māori/non Pacific Islander according to the combined ethnic fractions of the parents of the deceased. (Registration of deaths required information on the degree (fraction) of Māori or Pacific Island blood of the deceased's mother and father and their tribe.)
  • For example. ½ Māori mother + Full Māori father = Māori (½ or more Māori), while ½ Māori mother + non-Māori father = non Māori (less than ½ Māori)

The question produced two types of responses: Māori or Pacific Island people (defined as those who had half or more Māori or Pacific Island blood) and non-Māori and non-Pacific Island people. It was recognised as limiting as there was no way of separately identifying other ethnic groups (eg Asian, European). Also, from 1986 (when the census ethnic question embraced the concept of self-identification), the inconsistencies between the scope of the ethnic vitals question and the ethnic census question became marked. The two data sets (registration-based vital events and census population) were based on different concepts and this added to the complexities of accurately measuring ethnic differentials in mortality.

From September 1995

  • Changes to the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Act and the introduction of a new death registration form in September 1995 marked a major milestone in ethnic statistics. The new death registration form included an ethnic question consistent with the concept of ethnic self-identification. In addition a question is asked regarding whether the deceased was descended from a New Zealand Māori.

  • Initially, the ethnic question on the death registration form was the same as that asked in the 1996 Census of Population and Dwellings. It asked the respondent to tick as many circles as needed to show which ethnic group the deceased belonged to. During 2005, the ethnic question was changed on the death registration form to be consistent with that in the 2001 Census of Population and Dwellings. It asked the respondent to tick the box or boxes which applied to the deceased.

  • Before June 1998, up to three ethnic groups were captured; after that date all responses have been captured.

The ethnic question based on self-identification resulted in:

  • A large increase in the number of deceased being identified by respondents as belonging to one, or both, of the Māori and Pacific ethnic groups.
  • A much greater range of ethnic groups being identified by respondents for the deceased. Where previously the non-Māori, non-Pacific Island category was large and ambiguous, it is now possible to identify specific ethnic groups, such as Chinese, Malaysian or South African, within this broad group.
  • Multiple ethnic responses being generated as a result of respondents having the opportunity to select more than one ethnic group.
  • The ability to monitor the level of non-response to the ethnic question.

The implications of these results are:

  • It is now possible to generate ethnic-specific rates of mortality as well as to calculate population estimates and projections for a wider range of ethnic groups.
  • It will be possible to more accurately gauge the specific needs of ethnic groups and, for the first time, detail on smaller ethnic minorities will be available.

These changes are an important outcome of the ongoing evaluation of statistical concepts and definitions designed to introduce consistency to ethnic questions and classifications across a range of statistical surveys.

From January 2006

  • From 1 January 2006 ethnicity will be coded according to the 2005 ethnicity classification. The new classification consists of six broad ethnic groups (European, Māori, Pacific, Asian, MELAA (Middle Eastern, Latin American and African) and Other) compared with five under the previous classification (European, Māori, Pacific, Asian and Other). In addition, a new ethnicity 'New Zealander' has been created within the Other group. Previously 'New Zealander' type responses (eg Kiwi) were coded to New Zealand European.

More about the history of death registration in New Zealand

  • More information about the history of death registrations and their limitations can be found in Statistics New Zealand's publication "A History of Survival in New Zealand: Cohort life table 1876–2004" and "Little Histories" published by the Department of Internal Affairs.

Neonatal and infant deaths

Under-registration of neonatal and infant deaths

  • Births and deaths data published by Statistics New Zealand is derived from registrations held by the Department of Internal Affairs (Births, deaths and marriages - BDM). Because there is a lag between the date of birth or death and the date of registration, we generally publish data by date of registration (not date of birth or death). The lag between the event and the registration tends to be relatively short for deaths but longer for births.
  • In 2012, we reported a drop in infant death registrations, particularly neonatal deaths (infants under 4 weeks of age). However, the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the coronial office had not observed a significant drop. The MoH are able to compare death registrations with their National Minimum Data Set (NMDS). MoH had observed an under-registration of neonatal deaths* for a number of years but the under-registration in 2012 was much larger than preceding years. (The unregistered deaths are largely very low weight preterm births who die shortly after birth.) Since then the MoH and BDM have been working to identify and register deaths that had occurred in 2011 and 2012 but had not been registered at the time. BDM completed these registrations in May and June 2014. This has resulted in a proportionally significant increase in the number of neonatal deaths in the June quarter 2014 registration data compared with previous June quarters.

Neonatal deaths registered in the June 2014 quarter

  • In the June 2014 quarter, 105 neonatal deaths were registered. That is significantly higher than the quarterly average (40) in the previous 5 years.
  • Nearly one-half (51) of the neonatal deaths registered in the June 2014 quarter had occurred in 2011 and 2012 (15 and 36, respectively).

Impact on annual neonatal and infant mortality rates

  • Infant mortality rates are calculated by dividing the number of deaths of children under 1 year of age by the number of live births (we use live births registered in New Zealand to mothers resident in NZ by date of registration) multiplied by 1,000.
  • Neonatal mortality rates are calculated by dividing the number of deaths of infants under 4 weeks of age by the number of live births multiplied by 1,000.
  • Neonatal and infant mortality rates for the June 2014 year show a significant increase. (Other periods that include the June 2014 quarter will show a similar pattern.)

Please refer to 'Infant Mortality Rate, 2004–14' in section 'Graphs' above.

  • Rates for 2011 and 2012 are lower than they would have been if these deaths were registered at the time they occurred. It is also acknowledged that under-registration affects other years. The Ministry of Health have provisional estimated this undercount at between 10 and 12 percent. To give some indication of the impact of these factors, we have included a graph of neonatal and infant mortality rates with the following adjustments; • for 2004–10 and 2013 we increased registered neonatal deaths by 10 percent (registered neonatal deaths multiplied by 1.1) • 2011 - registered neonatal deaths plus 15 • 2012 - registered neonatal deaths plus 36 • 2014 – registered neonatal deaths minus 51 then multiplied by 1.1 • no adjustment was made to the number of live births

These adjustments produce a relatively static neonatal rate and a small decline in the infant mortality rate over the last decade.

Please refer to 'Estimated Infant Mortality Rate, 2004–14' in section 'Graphs' above.

  • The National Minimum Dataset (NMDS) is a national collection of public and private hospital discharge information, including coded clinical data for inpatients and day patients. ** A small number of deaths at other ages are also under-registered but they do not make up a significant proportion of overall deaths. Because the number of neonatal is relatively small (about 180 per year) a change in the rate of under-registration can have a significant impact on neonatal and infant deaths rates.

Main users of the data

Statistics NZ, Ministry of Health, Government Planners and Local Authority Planners, Health researchers, District Health Boards, Funeral Directors


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