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Economic Standard of Living:

Household crowding


The proportion of the population living in crowded housing (ie requiring one or more additional bedrooms, as defined by the Canadian Crowding Index). The Canadian Crowding Index is a proxy measure to monitor the incidence of "crowding" in the population.


Housing space adequate to the needs and desires of a family is a core component of quality of life. National and international studies show an association between the prevalence of certain infectious diseases and crowding59 as well as between crowding and poor educational attainment. Crowding can also contribute to psychological stress for people in the households concerned.

Current level and trends

In 2006, 389,600 people, or 10 percent of the New Zealand resident population, lived in households requiring one or more additional bedrooms to adequately accommodate household members, based on the criteria in the Canadian Crowding Index (see Appendix 2). This was similar to the level of crowding in 2001. The proportion of people in crowded households has reduced since 1986, when 13 percent of the population were living in crowded conditions (392,700 people).

The Canadian Crowding Index also shows how many people live in houses where two or more bedrooms are required. In 2006, there were 131,100 people or 3.5 percent of the usually resident population in this situation, compared to 118,700 people (3.9 percent) in 1986.

Figure EC5.1 Proportion of population living in households requiring at least one additional bedroom, by ethnic group, 1986 and 200660

Figure EC5.1 Proportion of population living in households requiring at least one additional bedroom, by ethnic group, 1986 and 2006

Source: Statistics New Zealand 

Age and sex differences

Household crowding is more likely to be experienced by younger people than by older people. In 2006, 17 percent of children under the age of 10 years lived in households requiring at least one more bedroom, compared to 15 percent of 10–14 year olds. Among all adults aged 15 years and over, 9 percent lived in crowded households but this ranged from 17 percent of 15–24 year olds, to 10 percent of 25–44 year olds, 5 percent of 45–64 year olds and just 3 percent of those aged 65 years and over.

Between 1986 and 2006 there was little change in the proportion of children under the age of 15 years living in crowded households, defined either as needing one or more additional bedrooms (17 percent in both years) or as needing at least two more bedrooms (just over 5 percent in 1986 and just under 6 percent in 2006).

There is very little difference by sex in the likelihood of living in crowded households. 

Ethnic differences

Pacific peoples are far more likely to be living in crowded households than other ethnic groups. In 2006, 43 percent of Pacific peoples lived in households requiring extra bedrooms. Māori and those in the Other ethnic group were the next most likely, with 23 percent of each group requiring at least one extra bedroom, followed by Asians (20 percent). Partly reflecting their older age profile, only 4 percent of European New Zealanders were living in houses that met the definition of crowding used here. The Other ethnic group was the only ethnic group to have an increased incidence of crowding between 1986 and 2006 (from 22 to 23 percent). One possible explanation for this trend is that recent migrants, common in this ethnic group, are more likely to live in crowded households.61

The largest group of those living in households requiring at least one extra bedroom were those who identified as European (32 percent), followed by Māori (30 percent), Pacific peoples (27 percent), Asian (17 percent) and the Other ethnic group (just 2 percent).62 Of those living in more severe crowding situations (households requiring two or more bedrooms), Pacific peoples and Māori made up the largest groups (37 percent and 32 percent, respectively).

Cultural attitudes and economic conditions are two primary factors that account for the extreme variation in crowding levels between ethnic groups. The variance in population age structures is also a factor: the Māori and Pacific peoples ethnic groups both have younger age structures than the European population.

Socio-economic differences

Unemployed people are more likely to be living in crowded households than those with full-time jobs (20 percent and 7 percent, respectively). Seventeen percent of people who receive income support were living in crowded households in 2006, up slightly from 16 percent in 2001.63

There is a clear correlation between levels of income and levels of crowding: in 2006, 5 percent of households in the bottom quartile of equivalised household income required one or more bedrooms, compared with less than 1 percent of those in the top income quartile.

Households in rental accommodation were more likely to be crowded (10 percent) than those in dwellings owned with a mortgage (4 percent) or mortgage-free (2 percent).

Regional differences

Household crowding varies considerably across the country. Manukau City has by far the highest level of household crowding, with 14 percent of households requiring one or more extra bedrooms in 2006. The next highest levels were in Opotiki District where 10 percent required at least one more bedroom, followed by Auckland City, Porirua City and Kawerau District (all 9 percent). In all of the South Island local authorities, levels of household crowding were lower than average.