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Report: Two Decades Of Change In New Zealand

Two Decades Of Change In New Zealand

By Judith Davey

Published by the Institute of Policy Studies

Victoria University

See also...http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/ED0306/S00030.htm

June 2003

The period between 1981 and 2001 has been one of considerable political change as well as change in the social and economic spheres. It has seen several changes of government and shifts in ideology, which resulted in the deregulatory and market-driven policies of the 1980s and 1990s. This book traces changes in New Zealand society over these two decades of change.


- The population of New Zealand is dominated by the baby-boom bulge - now passing through mid-life - and the "baby boom echo', which resulted in increased numbers of births around 1990. These two large groups have a significant effect on the demand for public services - education, health services, income support especially superannuation, as they pass through the stages of life.

- People 75 and over represent a growing share of population, driven by increased life expectancy. Ageing is clearly a "women's issue". Women comprise 62% of the population 75 and over and 70% of those 85 plus. The average age of admission to residential care has increased to well beyond 80 and there are higher levels of dependency on admission. Many older people remain in the community requiring less intensive care, but are in need of social support and contact.

- The trend towards later motherhood continues, lengthening the period between generations and prolonging child-rearing into mid-life. The fertility rate for women aged 40-44 has increased. Fertility rates for teenagers, while still attracting concern, continue to fall.

- There is greater ethnic diversity among children and young people than among adults. Maori represent a quarter of the population under 15 years. Pakeha strongly dominate the later life age groups, forming 83% of people 40 and over as against 63% of the population under 40.

- Over the 1981-2001 there has been a decrease in two-parent families and in increase in the one-parent category. The "nuclear family' type of household is no longer the norm for a considerable proportion of children. Most of the growth in sole parent families took place in the 1980s and the rate has now levelled out. While sole parents are mainly female there have been significant increases in young children living with sole fathers.

- De facto relationships are becoming increasingly common, especially for young adults and are increasing even in the older age groups. Social marital status - whether a person is partnered or not- is now more important than legal marital status.

- Despite growth in home ownership rates between 1981 and 1991, these have since fallen back significantly. The percentage of children living in rented housing increased over the two decades in all ethnic groups, rising to half for Maori and Pacific children in 2001. Are we seeing a delay in achieving home ownership or a turning away from this type of tenure?

- Over the two decades disparities in household incomes have widened between Maori and Pakeha.

- Children living with sole parents are less likely to have their parent in paid work than those living with both parents. This is a disadvantage in terms of household income, but may have advantages in terms of the presence of a parent at home. Workforce participation by sole parents increased between 1996 and 2001. Should this be seen as a positive or a negative trend in terms of policy objectives?

- Participation in early childhood care and education (ECCE) continues to increase, which is a positive trend given recognition of the importance of early learning. But enrolment levels are still lower for Maori and Pacific children. Forms of ECCE which provide full day care have become more popular than sessional services, linked to higher levels of workforce involvement by mothers.

- The school population is becoming more diverse in ethnicity and this produces challenges to the education system to meet the needs of a variety of cultural groups, especially Maori but also the growing Asian segment. There have been improvements in Maori educational attainment and school retention but ethnic disparities still persist. Maori/non-Maori school qualification disparities have narrowed slightly, but remain significant.

- Levels of involvement in tertiary education have increased significantly. Maori and Pacific enrolments doubled during the 1990s but these groups are still under-represented, especially at universities. Half of tertiary students are now 25 and over.

- Over the last two decades, participation in the labour force has increased for women and decreased for men. There has been an increase in self-employment and part-time work. Workforce participation peaks for both men and women when they are in their forties and early fifties and declines well before the traditional age of retirement. This has implications for income and also for the ability to save.

- At the same time there has been a strong increase in workforce participation by men and women aged 60 to 64 since 1991. This is related to changes in age of eligibility for New Zealand Superannuation and is a very clear example of policies influencing behaviour.

- Personal behaviour strongly influences health and recent trends are not encouraging, especially among young people. Smoking has decreased among adults but may have increased among teenagers, especially girls, and little progress has been made in reducing Maori levels. Alcohol use is extremely common in New Zealand society. The frequency of drinking and the amount of alcohol consumed by teenage drinkers has increased. A high proportion of school children appear to be consuming alcohol, which they find easy to obtain.

- New Zealand has high rates of accidental death and injury among children. Accidents are a major cause of death and hospital admission at all ages, and many are preventable. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death and injury for children and young people. But road deaths and injury rates have fallen for many age groups between 1981 and 2001 and there has been a decrease in child drownings.

- Older people are especially vulnerable and more likely to die from accidental injuries which young people might survive. With the ageing of the population new approaches may be needed to protect older road users, especially pedestrians, and also very old people living alone, who are mainly women.

- Infant mortality has continued to fall, "cot death" has decreased and fewer children are failing pre-school hearing tests. But targets for immunisation have not been reached and there are concerns about infectious disease epidemics. The most serious of these are meningitis and respiratory disease (including asthma), which have been associated with family circumstances and poverty.

- Suicide is the second most important cause of death among young people but rates have declined recently.

- Heart disease has been reduced over recent years, mainly through changes in lifestyle such as smoking cessation and improved diet, but cancer death rates have increased, associated with ageing.


Many of the policy implications highlighted in the book restate the findings of earlier From Birth to Death volumes.

- Ethnic disparities, generally to the disadvantage of Maori and Pacific people, show little evidence of narrowing, and are especially relevant in the areas of employment, income, welfare dependency, educational achievement and health.

- A fall in homeownership may be symptomatic of financial pressures on families with children. Increasing workforce participation by mothers may create extra costs of childcare and the additional income may not compensate financially for lower levels of paid work by fathers. It may also create difficulties in balancing paid and unpaid work.

- The disadvantaged situation of one-parent families is clear through many indicators and supporting evidence such as the Living Standards survey, even though the increase in the proportion of children living with sale parents has slackened.

- Participation in tertiary education and training has increased and people 25 and over are more in evidence. The ageing of the workforce presents challenges to provide appropriate education and training for people in mid-life.

- Labour market participation is still the key to economic well-being for individuals and households. The implications of trends such as growing female and declining male participation and continuing youth unemployment require examination, along with the ability of people to save for their retirement and decisions surrounding exit from the workforce.

- Issues relating to population ageing are coming to the fore. These include the need for eldercare and support for older people living alone, increasing levels of disability in society, special requirements in terms of mental and physical health and protection from risks such as accidents and elder abuse.

- Many aspects of everyday life pose threats to well-being, These include family conflict, accidents (especially road accidents), alcohol and drug use, inappropriate diet and physical inactivity. Preventive policies would not only enhance well-being but would be a more constructive use of resources than remedial action.


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