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New Zealand’s social wellbeing improving

21 July 2005

Media Release
For Immediate Release

New Zealand’s social wellbeing improving

New Zealanders’ lives are better, on average, than they were a decade ago, shows the Ministry of Social Development’s Social Report 2005.

Of the 22 social well being indicators in the report for which there is time series data 16 show improvement since the mid-1990s.

“New Zealanders continue to be better off financially, healthier and better educated”, said Marcel Lauziere, Deputy Chief Executive of Social Development Policy and Knowledge.

Strong growth in real GDP per capita has underpinned improved economic standards of living. The unemployment rate has fallen below four percent, while the employment rate and real wages have increased.

There has been a decline in the proportion of the population with low incomes and in the proportion of households spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs. However, income inequality has increased slightly as a result of relatively larger rises in the incomes of middle and higher income households.

While poverty rates are still higher than they were in the late 1980s, outcomes for children relative to adults have improved substantially. The proportion of children living in low income families fell from 27 percent in 2001 to 21 percent in 2004. This compares to a fall from 22 to 19 percent in the proportion of the population aged 15 and over with low incomes. The poverty rate of older people aged 65 and over remained lower than that of other age groups, at 8 percent in 2004.

Real median hourly wages have increased for young people aged 15-24 since 1997, but less so than for older age groups.

In the health domain, life expectancy has increased, while smoking, road casualties and suicide deaths have declined. The youth suicide rate fell by 41 percent between 1995 and 2002. In contrast, there was little change in the rate of child deaths from intentional injury over the 1990s. The five-year annual average rate was 1.1 per 100,000 for the period 1996-2000, almost twice the rate over 1981-1985 (0.6 per 100,000). Obesity among adults has become more prevalent, increasing from 17 to 21 percent between 1997 and 2003.

In the knowledge and skills domain, children starting school are more likely to have experienced early childhood education, participation in tertiary education has increased, and the proportion of adults with tertiary qualifications has risen. In the year ended June 2004, 16 percent of adults aged 25-64 years held a tertiary qualification at bachelor’s degree or higher, up from 10 percent in 1996.

However, there has been little change in the proportion of school leavers with higher qualifications.

The disparity between men and women has narrowed for some key indicators within the last decade. Life expectancy at birth - while still lower for men than women - has improved more for males since the mid-1980s. Falling rates of unemployment, suicide death and road casualty have improved men’s outcomes relative to those of women. On the other hand, the employment rate has risen slightly faster for women than men, and growth in women’s real median hourly earnings since 1997 has been double that of men. For two indicators - school leavers with higher qualifications and participation in tertiary study - the gap between the sexes has widened.

Several indicators show greater improvements for Maori than for European/Pakeha. These include life expectancy, suicide, participation in early childhood and tertiary education, school leavers with higher qualifications, adult achievement in education, employment, low incomes and housing affordability. Three indicators show greater improvements for Pacific peoples than for European/Pakeha: housing affordability, median hourly earnings and participation in early childhood education. While these improvements have slightly reduced ethnic disparities, indicators of wellbeing remain relatively poor for Maori and Pacific peoples in a number of areas, particularly health, economic standard of living and education.

Other findings of the report show that most employed New Zealanders (66 percent) are satisfied with their work-life balance, and that four in five adults are satisfied with their leisure time. Levels of trust in other people are lower than average among Maori and Pacific peoples. Levels of loneliness are higher than average among people with low personal incomes. New Zealand has consistently demonstrated low levels of perceived corruption since surveys began in 1997.

The Social Report 2005 is the fourth in a series of annual reports that aim to provide a comprehensive picture of social wellbeing and quality of life in New Zealand. The report uses a set of statistical indicators to monitor wellbeing across ten domains: health, knowledge and skills, paid work, economic standard of living, civil and political rights, cultural identity, leisure and recreation, physical environment, safety, and social connectedness.

For the first time, the Social Report includes information about how social wellbeing varies across the country against the 19 social report indicators for which there is regional data. Canterbury, Wellington and Nelson are in the top quartile for at least half of the indicators. Northland, Gisborne and the West Coast are in the lower quartile for more than half the indicators. More detailed regional information is available on the social report website www.socialreport.msd.govt.nz This information is being provided to support central and local government to identify and develop responses to issues, and to monitor progress across time.


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