What the census says about the Cook Islands and its people

Photo: Creators Hype

On 1 December, 2016, a snapshot of the Cook Islands and its people was taken through what is usually a once-every-five-years census. It's not an easy task because of the wide geographical spread of the Islands, but it gives a unique insight into life and its an essential tool to help the government plan how and where to spend money. This is the latest census information as the one scheduled for 2021 was cancelled because of the Coronavirus pandemic and the date for the next one hasn't been arranged

The resident population of the Islands on census day was 17,434 There were 8,914 females and 8,520 males. The figures include non-residents (mostly tourists)

The population of the Islands has been declining since the 1970s. Aitutaki has seen the biggest decline in population - from 2,038 in 2011 to 1,941 at this census. But this time round there were some small, but encouraging signs on the remote outer islands. Rakahanga, which saw its population nearly halve (from 141 to 77) between 2006 and 2011 saw a modest increase of 6 residents (up from 7 to 83). Neighbouring Nassau was up from 73 to 78 people and Penrhyn had 13 more (up from 213 to 226).


Rarotonga 13,007 (75% of the population)
Other southern group islands 3,326 (3,290 in 2011)
Northern group 1,101 (1,112 in 2011)
Aitutaki has the second largest population (1,941)
Palmerston has the smallest (58) and is counted as part of the Northern group in the census figures


These figures compare the latest figures with the ones from the previous census in 2011

Rarotonga 13,007, down 88
Aitutaki 1,941, down 97
Mangaia 499, down 73
Atiu 434, down 46
Mauke 297, down 10
Mitiaro 155, down 34

Manihiki 212, down 27
Penrhyn 226, up 13
Rakahanga 83, up 6
Pukapuka 444, down 7
Nassau 78, up 5
Palmerston 58, down 2 

Takutea and Manuae are deserted islands, so don't feature in the census. Also not included here is Suwarrow where there is no permanent resident population...just two caretakers from April to October 


Almost half the population (8,050) is under 30.
Here's how the figures break down:
Under 15: 4,296
15-29: 3,754
30-49: 4,438
50-64: 3,142
65 and over: 1,804 


Almost everyone associates themselves with a faith. The Cook Islands Christian Church remains dominant with nearly half the resident population (7,225 people) naming it as their religious denomination. Roman Catholicism was the next largest group with 2,574 members. 1,249 people say they’re Seventh Day Adventists and 609 belong to the Church of Latter Day Saints


Computers, laptops, iPads and tablets have overtaken TV as the most popular form of entertainment device. 6,114 homes have one or more them. 1,077 have video game consoles. 5,183 households said they had a TV set and 3,551 have a DVD player. Radio is still in nearly 3,000 homes, but the days of making your own entertainment round a piano or keyboard seem to be declining. Just 355 homes have them.


Just over half the population (7,818) use the internet, and 6,453 said they access it at least once a day. Many use it at school or work, but home is the most common location to access it. No surprise that it’s 15-19 year olds who are the biggest users. Mobile (cell) phones are the most popular form of IT; 9 563 said they used them. 767 said they didn’t use any technology


With dance the unofficial national "sport" of the Islands, its not surprising that 2,628 people described themselves as performers, some of them well into their 80s. 463 said they were choreographers and 1,442 said they were involved in making costumes. 501 described themselves as composers. 359 are involved in carving and 597 in practicing medicine


Smoking is declining across all age groups. 2,682 of those aged 15 or over have never smoked and 1,352 said they didn’t any more. Just 1,827 of those who responded (379 didn’t) said they smoked regularly. 2,772 over 15s said they never drink while 3,955 said they did sometimes and 2,188 drink regularly