Shrinking regions: A global challenge for masters student

6 November 2014

Rachael McMillan

Masters scholarship winner: Rachael McMillan is using her Research Institute Scholarship award to explore strategies on shrinking populations.

Shrinking populations are becoming a significant challenge to many countries around the world and a University of Waikato masters student is looking at what this could mean for New Zealand.

Strategies from around the world

Rachael McMillan is researching what other countries are doing about their shrinking regional populations, and looking at what strategies they are using to address the issue.

“People often focus on cities but regional areas are important contributors to overall national competitiveness.”

From labour markets and spatial planning, to governance and social capital, Rachael is assessing whether or not these international strategies could be applied in a New Zealand context.

“Significant demographic trends are transforming the world, with record low fertility across the globe, ageing and mobile populations, and increasing longevity,” she says. 

“Many regional parts of the developed world are depopulating and growing older with major flow on effects for the allocation of resources, the provision of services and the viability of communities. New Zealand is not immune.

“Over the next few decades we will see higher proportions of people moving into the older age brackets, resulting in strain on healthcare and other services. There’ll also be less of the ‘younger generation’ to take care of the ageing demographic. We’re already seeing these trends in places such as Japan and the Netherlands where whole towns have been shut down.”

Research Institute Scholarship winner

Rachael is one of five masters students to be awarded a 2014 Research Institute Scholarship of $12,000 from the University of Waikato, and is undertaking her research with the National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis (NIDEA).

She already has the foundation for her research, which she began in September, and says there are many factors contributing to decreases in regional populations.

“Regional changes cannot be seen in isolation. They are intimately linked to forces outside their boundaries. The causes are multi-dimensional. Globalisation concentrates human capital, resources and infrastructure in globally competitive cities whilst leaving cities, towns or regions that have not made it into the popular ranks subsequently being sucked dry.”

A New Zealand focus

Rachael will be applying her findings to two case studies of regional areas in New Zealand where these strategies might be applied, with the first being focused on West Coast of the South Island. A further location is yet to be finalised.

She is no stranger to demography, having worked on various other projects for NIDEA. She says her background in environmental planning was easily transferred to the field of demography given the similarities.

“I’ve worked for McPherson Goodwin Surveyors, Opus and Otorohanga District Council before joining the team at NIDEA in 2011. But it’s all interrelated because it’s about people, and that’s the area I’m most interested in – helping people.”

Rachael hopes her research will be a valuable contribution to the field, and hopes to one day undertake doctoral study at the University. 

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