The report provides an analysis of available Cook Islands demographic data, and identifies the implications of observed demographic levels and trends on crosscutting issues such as the environment, health, education, and economic activity.
The total population according to the 2011 Census was 17,794 people, which included 2,820 tourists or other short-term visitors. The resident population, defined as people usually resident in the country, and who have had an established residence in the country for at least one year, was 14,974 people, compared to 15,324 residents in 2006. The decline in population resembles an average annual rate of growth of –0.5 per cent, and if it were to continue, would cause the population to half its size every 140 years. The decline of the population was most noticeable in the Outer Islands where the population was almost 14 per cent less in 2011 than in 2006.
This decline in population was mainly due to the fact that many people have been leaving the country since 1996, the year the Cook Islands Government introduced its economic reform programme, which led to the loss of many public sector jobs. Another reason was a significant decline in the number of births, as a result of both:
- fewer women of childbearing ages living in the country, and
- an actual decline in fertility, as evident in a drop in the average number of births per woman.
It has been estimated that over 1,600 more people have left than have entered the country during the period 2006-2011, an average net-loss of about 322 people per year. The current trend of net migration continues to be negative, which means that more people emigrate (leaving the country), than immigrate (entering the country). However, the average annual number of births has increased from about 290 (2001-2006) to about 350 births during the period 2006-2011, and the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) (average number of births per woman) has increased from 2.5 in 2006 to about 2.8 during the period 2006-2011.
The presented fertility estimates are mainly based on the number of registered births whilst some resident women have births overseas and registered overseas, the proportion of ‘overseas births’ out of the total number of births is estimated to be below 5 per cent.
Based on the registered number of deaths (average for the period 2001-2012), life expectancies at birth are estimated at 71.5 and 78.4 years for males and females respectively. These estimates are considered to be ceiling figures (maximum estimates), because if deaths of Cook Islands residents who die overseas were to be included in the calculations, life expectancies would be lower.
The estimated mortality indicators show more positive mortality indicators for females than for males, with females expected to live, on average, about seven years longer than males.
The infant mortality rate (IMR) has been estimated at 10.2 for the period 2001-2012; 13.2 for males and 7.0 for females. This is an improvement from the period 1996-2001 where the IMR was estimated at 21, and for the period 2001-2006 estimate of 14.
Internal migration continues to be directed from the Outer Islands (rural areas) towards Rarotonga (urban). During the one-year period before the 2011 census, Rarotonga experienced a net gain of 68 people from the Outer Islands, and 234 during the 5-year period before the census. There was very little movement of people between the Northern and Southern Group islands.
Net international migration is estimated indirectly by applying the demographic balancing equation to the known 2006–2011 intercensal population growth rate, and estimated CBR and CDR. The net migration rate is estimated at -21.1 per 1,000 population which equals on average -320 people per year during the intercensal period 2006–2011. This migration rate is an increase from the previous intercensal period of 2001-2006 which was estimated at -8.6 per 1,000 populations.
Taggy Tangimetua thanked the Secretariat of the Pacific Community for their invaluable assistance and support, outlining that:
“This report is an indispensable source of information to keep track of the Cook Islands population size and dynamics and like every tool it is only as good as what we make of it. The challenge for everyone, the policy makers and planners of the Cook Islands especially, is to use the report to sharpen our service to the people we serve.”
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