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Study reveals startling new data on wellbeing in NZ

Media release
For immediate release

Monday 15 July 2013

Results released of inaugural Sovereign Wellbeing Index

Study reveals startling new data on wellbeing – and the lack of it – in New Zealand

Older, female and financially stable New Zealanders have the highest wellbeing in New Zealand, a groundbreaking new social index has revealed.

And although the inaugural Sovereign Wellbeing Index shows that the wellbeing of New Zealanders is startlingly low compared with other countries, it confirms that five free and simple habits can boost our individual wellbeing.

The index was developed by AUT University’s Human Potential Centre in partnership with Sovereign as an alternative to measuring a country’s success through economic indicators such as GDP.

It’s the first national representation of how New Zealanders are faring on a personal and social level, and was created with the vision of helping to frame personal choices and public policy
and action in New Zealand. Nearly 10,000 New Zealand adults were surveyed for the index.

“Our success as a nation and individually is not just about having money in the bank,” says study leader Grant Schofield, professor of public health at AUT University.

“A good GDP is great, but it’s a means to an end. That end result is wellbeing. The challenge is to enable a society where people lead purposeful and meaningful lives.”

Sovereign CEO Symon Brewis-Weston says the company chose to support New Zealand’s first wellbeing index because it wanted to better understand the challenges and opportunities the country faces in the area of health and wellbeing.

“We’re proud to be part of such a significant and worthwhile project, and one with relevance not only to ourselves as a life insurance provider, but to the nation as a whole. The health and wellbeing of New Zealanders has a direct impact on Sovereign as a business and also the communities in which we all live.

“This report challenges the traditional definition of ‘wellbeing’ and will provide new and valuable insight into how we really feel about ourselves and our lives.”

Professor Schofield says wellbeing encompasses more than simply happiness. “It’s a measurement of how well we’re feeling and functioning in our lives – psychologically, physically and socially.”

There was good news for older, female and wealthier New Zealanders – these groups were the most likely to be “flourishing” (having higher levels of wellbeing), with people in their seventies thriving more than any other age group.

The study found that people’s wellbeing tended to increase with income, but it also confirmed that five free actions (Five Winning Ways)[1] contributed to higher wellbeing:

1. socially connecting with others;
2. giving time and resources to others;
3. appreciating and taking notice of our surroundings;
4. learning new things;
5. being physically active.
Those with “Super Wellbeing” – scoring in the top 25 per cent in wellbeing indicators – were also likely to have better general health, be non-smokers and exercisers, and have healthier diets and weights.

One of the most striking – and concerning – results was New Zealand’s low placing in international wellbeing rankings. When compared with surveys of 22 European countries using the same set of measurements, New Zealand consistently ranked near the bottom in personal and social wellbeing – far behind the Scandinavian countries in the lead.

We were fourth from the bottom in the overall wellbeing rankings, ahead of only Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ukraine. Norway, Switzerland and Denmark took the top three rankings respectively.

Our worst comparative result was in connecting within our communities – only a quarter of us felt close to people in our local area, sending us to the very bottom of the table.

“It was a huge surprise to see New Zealand ranking so low,” says Professor Schofield. “I hadn’t expected New Zealand to be the best, but I hadn’t expected we’d do as badly as we did. I think it comes down to our comparative lack of social connectedness and the fact that the gap is growing between the haves and the have-nots. We’re not the even and fair society we once thought we were.

“We need to start having discussions about the New Zealand we want to be, and how we can start to achieve that.”

The index is drawn from an AUT survey last year of 9962 randomly selected New Zealanders aged 18 and older. It will continue to monitor the wellbeing of New Zealanders, and benchmark with the European results, over the next four years.

Every New Zealander now has the chance to see 'how well they are living' by taking the wellbeing quiz on


Wellbeing in New Zealand – who comes out on top?

If you’re an older, wealthier New Zealand woman, you’re more likely to be thriving, according to the inaugural Sovereign Wellbeing Index.

The index found that these groups consistently fared better than others on a personal and social level.

The index sought to identify the demographic groups in New Zealand who are “flourishing” – defined as those who have supportive and rewarding relationships, actively contribute to the happiness of others, lead purposeful and meaningful lives and are engaged and interested in their activities.

Those who scored in the top 25% on the flourishing scale were identified as having “Super Wellbeing”.

The survey found that flourishing tended to increase with age – with a drop-off as people entered their eighties. Those aged 50-79 scored the highest average flourishing scores of anyone, were least likely to suffer from a depressed mood, were the most likely to help and support others and to feel close to people in their local area, and were the mostly likely to have Super Wellbeing.

Across nearly every age group in the study, women on average scored higher on the flourishing scale than men, though they tended to consider themselves to have a lower social position. Women were 1.4 times as likely as men to have Super Wellbeing.

People with higher incomes flourished more than those on lower incomes, and were more likely to have Super Wellbeing. Those with the highest household incomes (over $200,000) tended to flourish the most. They were the least likely to suffer from a depressed mood, the most likely to be exercising, and the most likely to declare themselves to be at the top of society.

About Sovereign
Sovereign Assurance Company Limited (‘Sovereign’) is New Zealand’s largest life insurer; protecting the lives of more than 600,000 people through the provision of personal insurances (such as life, income protection, disablement and trauma and major medical health policies) and employer sponsored compulsory and voluntary workplace schemes.

Sovereign’s financial strength is rated A+ (Superior) by A.M. Best Company Inc (‘A.M. Best’)

[2 Sovereign is part of the ASB group of companies, which is in turn part of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia group.

[1]The Five Ways to Wellbeing is a set of evidence-based public mental health messages aimed at improving the mental health and wellbeing of the entire population. They were developed in 2008 by the UK’s New Economics Foundation (NEF) as the result of a commission by Foresight, the UK Government’s futures think-tank, as part of the Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing.  ‘Five Winning Ways’ has been picked up and used in a myriad of ways around the world including by the New Zealand Mental Health Foundation.

[2] A.M. Best is a global organisation (and an approved rating agency in New Zealand) that undertakes public rating assignments. The current rating was given on 20 December 2012.  The AM Best rating scale can be viewed at

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