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In this section, we look at changes in social wellbeing for New Zealanders from the mid-1990s (1995–1997)118 to the latest available year (generally 2007–2009). We compare New Zealand’s outcomes with those of other OECD countries. We also show how different population groups have fared: Māori, Pacific peoples, Asian and Other ethnicities, and we describe differences in social outcomes by sex and socio-economic group.

Twenty-five of the 43 indicators in The Social Report 2010 have trend data from at least as far back as the mid-1990s: these indicators are shown in Figure SU1. For most of the other indicators with trend data, the series begins in the early-2000s. Indicators with new information are identified in bold type.

Changes in social wellbeing over time

Social wellbeing in New Zealand has improved since the mid-1990s

Overall, New Zealanders generally have good outcomes on the measures of social wellbeing in this report. Most of the indicators show positive trends since the mid-1990s. A small number show improvements since the mid-1990s, but little change or slight declines in the most recent years. Three indicators – obesity, housing affordability and voter turnout – show a deterioration since the mid-1990s.

Better health outcomes compared with the mid-1990s

Four of the six indicators in the Health domain show positive trends since the mid-1990s. Both health expectancy and life expectancy have increased, and cigarette smoking has declined. Fewer young people are taking up smoking: daily smoking rates for 14–15 year olds fell by almost two-thirds over the decade to 2009. The suicide death rate has also improved since the mid-1990s, and was lower in 2007 than it was in the mid-1980s. On the other hand, the prevalence of obesity among adults increased between 1996/1997 and 2006/2007 and there was no significant change in the prevalence of hazardous drinking among people aged 16–64 years over that time.

Progress in education participation and achievement

Trends in education participation and achievement are largely positive. Participation in early childhood education at ages 3 and 4 years has increased, although growth has slowed in recent years. Since the introduction of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) in 2002, the proportion of secondary school leavers with higher qualifications at NCEA Level 2 or above has increased in each year to 2008 (the latest year for which data is available). Participation in tertiary education was higher in 2009 than it was in the mid-1990s but it has declined since 2005, largely because of falling enrolments in certificate-level courses and among people aged 25 years and over. The educational attainment of the adult population has improved substantially, with the proportion of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher qualification more than doubling since the mid-1990s. Adult literacy in English (prose and document literacy skills at Level 3 or above) improved over the decade to 2006, for people aged 25–65 years.

Improved Paid Work outcomes but impact of recession showing

While all the indicators in the Paid Work domain with long-term trend data show improvement from the mid-1990s, two reflect the lagged impact of the economic recession in New Zealand between March 2008 and March 2009. The unemployment rate increased in the December years 2008 and 2009, although it remained lower than it was in the recession of the late 1990s. However, the youth (15–24 years) unemployment rate was higher in 2009 than it was in 1998. The employment rate fell slightly in both 2008 and 2009, after reaching historically high levels in 2006 and 2007. Despite the recent fall, the employment rate was considerably higher in 2009 than it was in the mid-1990s. The real median hourly earnings of wage and salary earners increased by 4 percent between 2008 and 2009, an improvement from no change in the previous year. Over the 12 years from 1997 to 2009, real median hourly earnings increased by 21 percent. The rate of work-related injury claims fell over the decade. The proportion of employed New Zealanders reporting satisfaction with their work-life balance was similar in 2006 and 2008.

Mixed outcomes in the Economic Standard of Living domain

Of the four updated indicators in the Economic Standard of Living domain, one deteriorated in the latest year, two showed little change, and one improved. Market income per person (the total income available to New Zealanders, averaged over the population) fell slightly in the year to December 2009, although it remained considerably higher than it was in the mid-1990s. The income inequality ratio changed little between 2007 and 2009 and was similar to the ratio in the mid-1990s.

The proportion of the population with low incomes (those in households with incomes below the low-income threshold) has improved almost continuously since the mid-1990s. For the population as a whole, the rate fell from 18 percent in 2007 to 15 percent in 2009. However, the rate for children (22 percent) did not change between 2007 and 2009 and remained higher than the rates for all other age groups. Children and adults living in sole-parent families are still significantly more likely than those living in two-parent families to be living in households with incomes below the low-income threshold (43 percent and 13 percent, respectively, in 2009). Since the mid-1990s, people aged 65 and over have had the lowest proportion in households with incomes below the low-income threshold (9 percent in 2009).

Housing affordability, measured by the proportion of households spending more than 30 percent of their disposable income on housing, changed little between 2007 and 2009 for households overall, having deteriorated since the mid-1990s. For households in the lowest 20 percent of the income distribution, housing affordability improved markedly from around half of these households in 1994 to around a third in 2004, remaining close to that level in 2007 and 2009. A relatively high proportion of children under 18 years live in households with housing costs exceeding 30 percent of their disposable income and the proportion increased between 2007 and 2009 (from 32 percent to 37 percent). Household crowding, which is based on data from the five-yearly population census, improved between 1996 and 2006.

Some improvement in Civil and Political Rights outcomes

In the Civil and Political Rights domain, outcomes have generally improved or remained stable. While voter turnout in general elections has declined since the mid-1990s, there was little difference in turnout between the 2005 and 2008 elections. In the 2008 New Zealand General Social Survey (NZGSS), reported voter turnout in the last general election was significantly lower for the unemployed and people on low incomes than for employed people or those on higher incomes. People aged 45 and over had higher reported voter turnout than younger age groups. The outcome of the 2008 election saw further increases in the proportion of women and ethnic groups represented in Parliament.

New Zealand’s score for perceived corruption remains highly favourable, with little change since the mid-1990s. The picture is different for the perceived discrimination indicator. Between 2008 and 2009, there was an increase in the proportion of people reporting that Asians, people on welfare, people with disabilities, Māori, older people, women, and children and young people were subject to discrimination. In the 2008 NZGSS, one in 10 people aged 15 years and over said they had been discriminated against in the past year, most commonly because of their nationality, race or ethnic group, or their skin colour.

Cultural Identity outcomes are mixed

The proportion of local content programming on New Zealand television broadcast during prime-time hours was higher in 2009 than it was in the mid-1990s, but has fallen since 2006. The proportion of Māori who can speak Māori declined slightly between 2001 and 2006 although the total number of Māori who can do so increased over this period. Between 2001 and 2006, most ethnic groups experienced little change in the proportion of people who could speak the first language of their ethnic group.

No change in the Leisure and Recreation domain

The proportion of New Zealanders aged 15 years and over who met the guidelines for being physically active was similar in 2002/2003 and 2006/2007, at around one half. The new indicator on participation in arts and cultural activities shows that more than four in every five people aged 15 years and over attended arts and cultural events in 2008. Almost half were active participants, similar to the proportions in 2005. There was no change between 2006 and 2008 in the proportion of people who were satisfied with their leisure time.

Safety outcomes have improved since the mid-1990s

In the road casualties indicator, the road user death rate was slightly higher in 2009 than in 2008, but well below the rate in the mid-1990s. The road user injury rate increased between 2000 and 2007 and although it fell slightly in both 2008 and 2009, it was still higher than the rate in 2000.

Trends in assault mortality are more difficult to discern because the rates are based on small numbers. Across all ages, the provisional assault mortality rate for 2007 was lower than the rate in 2006, and lower than the rates in the mid-1990s. The child assault death rate for the period 2003–2007 was lower than the rate for the four previous five-year periods.

There is no trend information for criminal victimisation or fear of crime because of changes in the survey design. In 2005, 40 percent of New Zealanders aged 15 years and over said fear of crime had a moderate or high impact on their quality of life and 39 percent reported experiencing some form of criminal victimisation.

There have been some improvements in the Social Connectedness domain

There was a large improvement in the proportion of households with internet access in the home between 2006 and 2009 (from 65 percent to 75 percent). Over the same period, the proportion of people with the personal use of a mobile phone increased from 80 percent to 85 percent. There was no change between 2006 and 2008 in the proportion of people who said they believed people can be trusted, and in the proportion who reported having felt lonely during the past 12 months. There was a decline between 2001 and 2007 in the proportion of secondary school students who reported that most weeks they were able to spend enough time with either their Mum or their Dad.

Two indicators in this domain, both using data from the 2008 New Zealand General Social Survey, do not yet have trend information. A majority of adults (60 percent) said they have about the right amount of contact with family and friends, and one in three adults had done voluntary work for a group or organisation in the last four weeks.

New Zealanders’ overall life satisfaction is high

The final indicator in the report – overall life satisfaction – is a subjective indicator of how people feel about their lives as a whole. A large majority of New Zealanders – 86 percent – reported in the 2008 New Zealand General Social Survey that they were satisfied with their life overall.

Figure SU1 Changes in social wellbeing, 1995–1997 to 2007–2009

Figure SU1	Changes in social wellbeing, 1995–1997 to 2007–2009

Interpreting “Changes in social wellbeing, 1995–1997 to 2007–2009”

The circle Circle represents average outcomes for each indicator between 1995 and 1997, and the spokes spokes represent outcomes between 2007 and 2009. Where possible, the data is averaged over the three years in each period. Where a spoke extends beyond the circle, this means the outcome for this indicator has improved between the two periods. The further the spoke is outside the circle, the greater the improvement. Where a spoke falls within the circle, the outcome for this indicator has deteriorated over the decade. The further the spoke is inside the circle, the more pronounced the deterioration. An important limitation on this style of presentation is that we cannot directly compare the size of changes for different indicators. Also, the absence of longer-term trend data for some indicators limits the number of indicators we can display. Most of the latest data is for 2007, 2008 or 2009, with the exception of suicide and assault mortality (both 2005–2007) and adult literacy (2006).