February 01, 2024

Media release 

In this Insight, we explored the intricate landscape of university economics enrolment in Aotearoa New Zealand. Insight author Dr Zhongchen Song says, "The economics and teaching professions need to take a good look at themselves. New Zealand's economic enrollment is plummeting, particularly among females, and diverse ethnic groups, presenting a dangerous erosion of the government's economic competence, especially in comprehending well-being and fairness.". 

One striking revelation from our study is the stark decrease in students pursuing economics at New Zealand universities, plummeting from around 10,000 in 2004 to a mere 4,800 in 2022. This decline is particularly noteworthy given the general upward trend in university enrolments, marking economics as an outlier in this regard.

Regarding diversity, the gender distribution among economics students has undergone a noteworthy transformation over the years. In 2003, an equal number of males and females engaged in the study of economics. However, recent data paints a different picture, portraying a male-dominated field with a ratio of approximately two males to every female.

Ethnic dynamics within economics enrolments have also experienced a shift. Despite the positive trend in the increase in Māori students, the representation of Māori and Pacific students remains notably below their overall presence among university students.

Furthermore, an emerging trend indicates an increasing proportion of economics students hailing from less deprived areas, suggesting potential disparities in socio-economic backgrounds. 

The significance of diversity in economics cannot be overstated. Diversity in sex, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background and various dimensions enhances problem-solving and decision-making by introducing diverse perspectives, experiences and skills, especially considering the diverse social groups that can be affected by government policies and the goal of achieving equitable well-being outcomes.

The decline in economics enrolments and diversity presents a formidable challenge for the New Zealand government, which is already grappling with limited economic capability, primarily confined to a handful of core economic organisations. Deficiency in economic expertise threatens the quality of policy advice and operational efficiency. Declining enrolments and diversity will likely intensify the scarcity of economic capabilities within government entities.

We highlight the importance of more research to understand why diversity has been decreasing in the field of economics in New Zealand. We believe policymakers need to take measures to tackle the decline in economics enrolment and the lack of diversity in the field.

About NZIER Public Good Programme
As a not-for-profit incorporated society, each year, NZIER undertakes economic research and thinking in the public interest aimed at promoting a better understanding of New Zealand's important economic challenges.

As an independently constituted think tank, our work is free from any political or commercial influence. Our work is designed to provoke reactions and advance New Zealand's understanding of economic challenges and opportunities.

We regularly publish think pieces, offer presentations and webinars on topical issues. We sponsor the biennial NZIER Early Career Economics Leader Award and the annual Prime Minister's Summer Reading List aimed at promoting discourse on a broad range of policy and economics issues. 

NZIER's Public Good Fund is also used to inform young learners, visiting diplomats and officials from international bodies about the New Zealand economy as part of a global network of economics and policy think tanks.

For more information, contact:
Zhongchen Song
Senior economist
021 0221 8502

Read the Insight here