Latest government data (from September 2016) puts the Cook Islands population at 19,400 people.
This figure includes short term visitors to the island, mainly tourists on holiday. The resident population of the Cook Islands (again from September 2016) is estimated to be 11,700.
There are no official estimates available for the 2017 population of the Cook Islands yet, but a census was undertaken in December 2016. The results, which should be available soon, will provide more up to date statistics.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics in this article are drawn from the results of the 2011 Cook Islands census.
Table of Contents
- How many people live in the Cook Islands today?
- Population Growth in the Cook Islands
- Ethnic Groups in the Cook Islands
- Religion in the Cook Islands
- Cook Islands languages
- Largest cities in the Cook Islands
- Largest islands in the Cook Islands
- Education and Literacy Rate
- Other Cook Islands demographic data
- Coconut consumption
- Cook Islands population pyramid
How many people live in the Cook Islands today?
Results from the 2011 census indicated that there were 17,794 people on the Cook Islands on 1 December 2011. This was made up of 14,974 residents and 2,820 visitors, mostly tourists holidaying in the Cook Islands.
Of the Cook Islands residents, 7,409 were male and 7,484 were female.
Rarotonga is the most populous island in the Cooks, home to 10,572 residents and 2,523 of the 2,820 visitors.
Population Growth in the Cook Islands
Population in the Cook Islands varies from year to year.
This is partly because within a small population a slightly higher than normal number of deaths or births in one year can have a dramatic affect on population figures.
It is also partly because many Cook Islanders spend time off the islands, living in other countries – primarily New Zealand, where they have citizenship.
The Cook Islands population grew steadily during the first half of the 20th century, from around 8,000 people in 1900 to just over 20,000 people (visitors and residents) in 1971.
After a small dip in the 1970s the population has stabilised at around 18,000 people, including around 15,000 residents.
The resident population of the Cook Islands at the last three censuses is as follows:
Ethnic Groups in the Cook Islands
Cook Islands Maori are the largest ethnic group on the Cook Islands. 81% (12,180 people) reported that they were Cook Islands Maori and a further 7% (1,005 people) reported that they were part Cook Islands Maori.
The remaining 12% of respondents (1,789 people) reported that they were of another ethnic origin – most commonly of New Zealand European origin.
The ethnic composition of Rarotonga, the largest island, is different to the other islands in the country – almost all of the respondents who reported that they were of another ethnic origin live on Rarotonga.
Religion in the Cook Islands
94% of Cook Islanders reported that they were religious, and almost all of those respondents reported that they were associated with a Christian faith.
The four main churches on the Cook Islands are the protestant Cook Islands Christian Church (49%, 7,535 members), followed by the Roman Catholic Church (17%, 2,540 members), the Seventh Day Adventist Church (8%, 1,190 members) and the Mormon Church of the Latter Day Saints (5%, 656 members).
A further 841 people (6%) reported that they had no religion, and the remaining respondents reported that they were members of another, smaller, church.
Cook Islands languages
The two main languages in the Cook Islands are English and Cook Islands Maori. Both are official languages of the Cook Islands and over 90% of the Cook Islands population can speak and write in both languages.
While almost everyone is able to speak and write in English, the number who can speak and write in Cook Islands Maori varies, depending on ethnicity. Those who are Cook Island Maori are most likely to be fluent, followed by those who are part Cook Islands Maori and then those of other ethnic groups.
Cook Island Maori is closely related to New Zealand Maori. The language has been placed on the UNESCO endangered language list but with government support is actively being promoted and preserved.
Other languages in the Cook Islands include Penrhynese, Pukapukan and Rakahanga-Manihiki. They are also considered to be endangered languages.
Largest cities in the Cook Islands
Avarua, the capital city of the Cook Islands, is the only town or city on the Cook Islands of any significant size. It is located on the northern shore of Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands.
According to data from 2006, the population of Avarua is 5,445 people.
Largest islands in the Cook Islands
Instead of recording population by cities, it is more useful to record the Cook Islands population by island.
Rarotonga is the largest of the Cook Islands, and the large majority of Cook Islanders live there. In 2011, the population of Rarotonga was 10,572 people.
Aitutaki is the second largest island, with a population of 1,771 people in 2011, followed by Mangaia, with a population of 562 people.
Here is a full list of the Cook Islands listing their 2011 resident population.
The Cook Islands are divided into two groups, north and south. This classification is also used at times to record population. The population of Rarotonga and the two Cook Islands groups in 2011, sorted by resident population, is as follows:
Education and Literacy Rate
The Cook Islands spends 3.1% of GDP on education. Education is compulsory for all children from 5-15 years.
The literacy rate in the Cook Islands is 95%
Many students go on to further and higher (university) education outside of the Cook Islands, normally at universities in New Zealand.
An increasing number of students are choosing to study at the University of the South Pacific, which has a Cook Islands campus and delivers many courses remotely or by distance learning.
Other Cook Islands demographic data
Data in this section is drawn from the CIA World Factbook article about the Cook Islands. Data, unless otherwise noted, is from 2015.
At birth the ratio is 1.04 male(s)/female, which is slightly below the world average of 1.06 male(s)/female.
At higher ages, however, the ratio is more strongly skewed in favour of males than females compared to the rest of the world.
The ratio across the total population is 1.07 male(s)/female, which is considerably higher than the world average of 0.79 male(s)/female.
Life expectancy in the Cook Islands is 75.6 years. Cook Island males can expect to live for 72.7 years, and females can expect to live for 78.6 years.
The Cook Islands has a relatively young population. Median age in the Cook Islands is 35.25 years.
For males, the median age is 34.6 years and for females the median age is 35.7 years.
Birth and death rate
The birth rate in the Cook Islands is 14.33 births/1,000 population. This is below the global average of 19.15 births/1,000 population.
The death rate in the Cook Islands is 8.03 deaths/1,00 population. This is slightly above the global average of 7.89 deaths/1,000 population.
The fertility rate in the Cook Islands is 2.23 children per woman.
This is only slightly below the replacement fertility rate (the rate needed to sustain a population) which is 2.33 children per woman.
The Cook Islands is one of the few countries in the world to ask a question about coconut consumption as a part of its census.
The survey revealed that 2,947 households in the Cook Islands used 28,461 coconuts every week. That’s 10 coconuts per home per week.
Coconuts are also widely used for feeding livestock. 1,645 households reported using coconuts to feed animals, going through a total of 123,427 coconuts per week. That’s 75 coconuts per household per week.
The census also reported that 5,647 coconuts were used by 117 households for other, unspecified purposes.
There are a lot of coconuts on the Cook Islands.
Cook Islands population pyramid
The image below is of the Cook Islands 2016 population pyramid.