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New Zealand performs well in many measures of well-being, as shown by the fact that it ranks among the top countries in a large number of topics in the Better Life Index.
Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards. In New-Zealand, the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is 21 773 USD a year, less than the OECD average of 23 938 USD a year. But there is a considerable gap between the richest and poorest – the top 20% of the population earn five times as much as the bottom 20%.
In terms of employment, 72% of people aged 15 to 64 in New-Zealand have a paid job, above the OECD employment average of 65%. Some 78% of men are in paid work, compared with 67% of women. People in New-Zealand work 1 739 hours a year, slightly less than the OECD average of 1 765 hours. Another key measure, however, is how many people work very long hours. Around 13% of employees work very long hours, more than the OECD average of 9%, with 19% of men working very long hours compared with 7% for women.
Having a good education is an important requisite for finding a job. In New-Zealand, 74% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, close to the OECD average of 75%. This is slightly truer of men than women, as 75% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 73% of women. In terms of the quality of its educational system, the average student scored 509 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This score is higher than the OECD average of 497. On average in New-Zealand, girls outperformed boys by 5 points, lower than the average OECD gap of 8 points.
In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in New-Zealand is 81 years, one year higher than the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 83 years, compared with 79 for men. The level of atmospheric PM10 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs –is 10.8 micrograms per cubic meter, considerably lower than the OECD average of 20.1 micrograms per cubic meter. New-Zealand also does well in terms of water quality, as 89% of people say they are satisfied with the quality of their water, higher than the OECD average of 84%.
Concerning the public sphere, there is a strong sense of community and high levels of civic participation in New-Zealand, where 96% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, higher than the OECD average of 89%. Voter turnout, a measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process, was 74% during recent elections, higher than the OECD average of 72%. Voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is an estimated 81%, whereas the participation rate of the bottom 20% is an estimated 75%. This 6 percentage point difference is lower than the OECD average difference of 11 percentage points, and suggests there is broad social inclusion in New Zealand’s democratic institutions.
In general, 85% of people in New-Zealand say they have more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc.) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc.), more than OECD average of 76%.
OECD in Action
OECD Economic Surveys: New Zealand 2013
OECD's 2013 Economic Survey of New Zealand examines recent economic developments, policies and prospects. This issue features special chapters on school to work transition and long-term growth.Read this report
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New Zealand in Detail
Housing – New Zealand expand
Living in satisfactory housing conditions is one of the most important aspects of people’s lives. Housing is essential to meet basic needs, such as shelter, but it is not just a question of four walls and a roof. Housing should offer a place to sleep and rest where people feel safe and have privacy and personal space; somewhere they can raise a family. All of these elements help make a house a home. And of course there is the question whether people can afford adequate housing.
Housing costs take up a large share of the household budget and represent the largest single expenditure for many individuals and families, by the time you add up elements such as rent, gas, electricity, water, furniture or repairs. In New Zealand, households on average spend 25% of their gross adjusted disposable income on keeping a roof over their heads, one of the highest levels in the OECD, where the average is 21%.
In addition to housing costs it is also important to examine living conditions, such as the average number of rooms shared per person and whether households have access to basic facilities. In New Zealand, 92% of people say they are satisfied with their current housing situation, more than the OECD average of 87%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Income – New Zealand expand
While money may not buy happiness, it is an important means to achieving higher living standards and thus greater well-being. Higher economic wealth may also improve access to quality education, health care and housing.
Household net-adjusted disposable income is the amount of money that a household earns each year after taxes and transfers. It represents the money available to a household for spending on goods or services. In New Zealand, the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is 21 773 USD a year, lower than the OECD average of 23 938 USD.
Household financial wealth is the total value of a household’s financial worth. In New Zealand, the average household net financial wealth per capita is lower than the OECD average of 42 903 USD. While the ideal measure of household wealth should include non-financial assets (e.g. land and dwellings), such information is currently available for only a small number of OECD countries.
Despite a general increase in living standards across OECD countries over the past fifteen years, not all people have benefited from this to the same extent. In New Zealand, the average net adjusted disposable income of the top 20% of the population is an estimated 43 261 USD a year, whereas the bottom 20% live on an estimated 8 481 USD a year.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Preventing poverty in old age
Average poverty rates for the elderly fell from 15.1% in 2007 to 12.8% in 2010 in OECD countries, despite the crisis. Many countries undertook reforms to improve pension coverage and safety net benefits to fight poverty in old age more effectively.
New Zealand, for instance, has experienced a substantial increase in coverage thanks to the introduction of automatic enrolment in pension savings and government subsidies. Concerned that New Zealanders were not saving enough for their retirement through private arrangements, the government introduced the KiwiSaver Act in 2006.
KiwiSaver is a government-subsidised voluntary retirement saving scheme, run by the private sector with contributions divided between employees and employers. KiwiSaver members receive a lump sum, not a pension, on withdrawal at age 65 or over.
Employees starting a new job are enrolled automatically with the option to opt out. Before the introduction of the “KiwiSaver” scheme in 2007, pension saving coverage had declined to less than 10% of the working-age population. By 2012, “KiwiSaver” had built up coverage to 55%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Jobs – New Zealand expand
Having a job brings many important benefits, including: providing a source of income, improving social inclusion, fulfilling one’s own aspirations, building self-esteem and developing skills and competencies. In New Zealand, close to 72% of the working-age population aged 15 to 64 has a paid job. This figure is higher than the OECD employment average of 65%. Employment rates are generally higher for individuals with a higher level of education; in New-Zealand an estimated 83% of individuals with at least a tertiary education have a paid job, compared with an estimated 57% for those without an upper secondary education. This 26 percentage point difference is lower than the OECD average of 33 percentage points and suggests the job market in New-Zealand is relatively inclusive.
Women are still less likely than men to participate in the labour market. In New-Zealand, 67% of women have jobs. This is more than the OECD average of 57% but less than the 78% employment rate of men in New-Zealand. This 11 percentage point gender difference is lower than the OECD average of 16 percentage points and suggests New-Zealand could further improve employment opportunities for women but has generally been successful in addressing the constraints and barriers women face in accessing work.
Young people aged 15-24 in New-Zealand are facing difficulties however, with an unemployment rate of 17.7% compared with the OECD average of 16.3%.
Unemployed persons are defined as those who are not currently working but are willing to do so and actively searching for work. Long-term unemployment can have a large negative effect on feelings of well-being and self-worth and result in a loss of skills, further reducing employability. In New Zealand, the percentage of the labour force that has been unemployed for a year or longer is currently at 0.9%, much lower than the OECD average of 2.7%. There is little difference on average between men and women in the OECD area when it comes to long-term unemployment. In New-Zealand, the long-term unemployment rate for men and women is the same.
The wages and other monetary benefits that come with employment are an important aspect of job quality. In New-Zealand, people earn 31 394 US dollars per year on average, less than the OECD average of 41 010 USD. Not everyone earns that amount however. Whereas the top 20% of the population earn an estimated 40 041 USD per year, the bottom 20% live on an estimated 19 615 USD per year.
Another essential factor of employment quality is job security. Workers facing a high risk of job loss are more vulnerable, especially in countries with smaller social safety nets. In the Netherlands, workers face a 5.8% chance of losing their job, slightly higher than the OECD average of 5.3%.
More ResourcesWell‑being in the workplace: Measuring job quality
Community – New Zealand expand
Humans are social creatures. The frequency of our contact with others and the quality of our personal relationships are thus crucial determinants of our well-being. Helping others can also make you happier. People who volunteer tend to be more satisfied with their lives than those who do not. Time spent volunteering also contributes to a healthy civil society. On average, people in New Zealand spend 13 minutes per day in volunteering activities, the highest in the OECD where the average is 4 minutes per day. Around 69% reported having helped a stranger in the last month, one of the highest scores in the OECD where the average is of 49%.
A strong social network, or community, can provide emotional support during both good and bad times as well as provide access to jobs, services and other material opportunities. In New Zealand, 96% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need, the highest figure in the OECD, where the average is 89%. There is a 3 percentage point difference between men and women, as 94% of men believe they have this kind of social support, compared with 97% of women. In New Zealand, around 99% of people who have completed primary education report having someone to count on for help in times of need, compared to over 96% for people who attained tertiary education. New Zealand is one of four countries where the less educated report more social connections than the more educated.
A weak social network can result in limited economic opportunities, a lack of contact with others, and eventually, feelings of isolation. Socially isolated individuals face difficulties integrating into society as a contributing member and fulfilling personal aspirations.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance OECD Insights: Human Capital
Education – New Zealand expand
A well-educated and well-trained population is essential for a country’s social and economic well-being. Education plays a key role in providing individuals with the knowledge, skills and competences needed to participate effectively in society and in the economy. Having a good education greatly improves the likelihood of finding a job and earning enough money. Across OECD countries, 83% of people with university-level degrees have a job, compared with 55% for those with only a secondary school diploma. Lifetime earnings also increase with each level of education.
Following a decline in manual labour over previous decades, employers now favour a more educated labour force. High-school graduation rates therefore provide a good indication of whether a country is preparing its students to meet the minimum requirements of the job market. In New-Zealand, 74% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, close to the OECD average of 75%. This is truer of men than women, as 75% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 73% of women. This 2 percentage point difference is larger than the OECD average gap of 1 percentage point. Among younger people – a better indicator of New-Zealand’s future – 80% of 25-34 year-olds have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, slightly lower than the OECD average of 82%.
People in New-Zealand can expect to go through 18.2 years of education between the ages of 5 and 39, more than the OECD average of 17.7 years.
But graduation rates, while important, speak little to the quality of education received. The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reviews the extent to which students have acquired some of the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies. In 2012, PISA focused on examining students’ reading ability, skills in maths and level in sciences, as research shows that these skills are more reliable predictors of economic and social well-being than the number of years spent in school.
The average student in New Zealand scored 509 in reading literacy, maths and sciences, higher than the OECD average of 497. On average in New-Zealand, girls outperformed boys by 5 points, less than the average OECD gap of 8 points.
The best-performing school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students. In New-Zealand, the average difference in results, between the students with the highest socio-economic background and the students with the lowest socio-economic background, is 125 points, higher than the OECD average of 96 points and one of the largest gaps amongst OECD countries. This suggests the school system in New-Zealand does not provide equal access to high-quality education.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Environment – New Zealand expand
The quality of our local living environment has a direct impact on our health. Outdoor air pollution is one important environmental issue that directly affects the quality of peoples’ lives. Despite national and international interventions and decreases in major pollutant emissions, the health impacts of urban air pollution continue to worsen, with air pollution set to become the top environmental cause of premature mortality globally by 2050. Air pollution in urban centres, often caused by transport and the use of small-scale burning of wood or coal, is linked to a range of health problems, from minor eye irritation to upper respiratory symptoms in the short-term and chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer in the long-term. Children and the elderly may be particularly vulnerable.
PM10 – tiny particulate matter small enough to be inhaled into the deepest part of the lung – is monitored in OECD countries because it can harm human health and reduce life expectancy. In New Zealand, PM10 levels are 10.8 micrograms per cubic meter, much lower than the OECD average of 20.1 micrograms per cubic meter as well as than the annual guideline limit of 20 micrograms per cubic meter set by the World Health Organization and one of the lowest levels in the OECD.
Access to clean water is fundamental to human well-being. Despite significant progress in OECD countries in reducing water pollution, improvements in freshwater quality are not always easy to discern. In New Zealand, 89% of people say they are satisfied with water quality, slightly higher than the OECD average of 84%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance OECD Environmental Outlook to 2030
Governance – New Zealand expand
Trust in government is essential for social cohesion and well-being. In New-Zealand, 54% of people say they trust their national government, more than the OECD average of 39%. High voter turnout is another measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process. In the most recent elections for which data is available, voter turnout in New Zealand was 74% of those registered. This figure is slightly higher than the OECD average of 72%.
Even if the right to vote is universal in all OECD countries, not everyone exercises this right. There is little difference in the voting rates of men and women in most OECD countries. This is the case in New Zealand, where the voter turnout of men and women is similar, at respectively 75% and 73%. While on average there are few differences between men and women concerning participation in elections, income can have a strong influence on voter turnout. In New Zealand, voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is an estimated 81%, whereas the participation rate of the bottom 20% is an estimated 75%. This 6 percentage point difference is lower than the OECD average difference of 11 percentage points, and suggests there is broad social inclusion in New Zealand’s democratic institutions.
Ensuring that government decision making is not compromised by conflicts of interest is key to maintaining trust in government. Transparency is therefore essential to hold government to account and to maintain confidence in public institutions.
Freedom of information laws (FOI) allow the possibility for individuals to access undisclosed information. For such policies to be successful, the public should have a clear understanding of their rights under the law, should be able to file requests with ease and should be protected against any possible retaliation. People in New Zealand can file a request for information either in writing, online, by telephone or in person – thus greatly facilitating the FOI process. However, there are no provisions for anonymity or protection from retaliation.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Health – New Zealand expand
Most OECD countries have enjoyed large gains in life expectancy over the past decades, thanks to improvements in living conditions, public health interventions and progress in medical care. Life expectancy at birth in New Zealand stands at 81 years, one year above the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 83 years, compared with 79 for men, a slightly smaller gender difference than the average OECD gap of six years, with a life expectancy of 83 years for women and 77 years for men.
Higher life expectancy is generally associated with higher healthcare spending per person, although many other factors have an impact on life expectancy (such as living standards, lifestyles, education and environmental factors). Health spending is estimated at 10.3% of GDP in New Zealand, higher than the OECD average of 9.4%. However, New-Zealand ranks below the OECD average in terms of total health spending per person, at 3 182 USD in 2011, compared with an OECD average of 3 322 USD. Between 2000 and 2010, total health spending in New-Zealand increased in real terms by 5.1% per year on average, a faster rate than the OECD average of 4.0%. This growth rate then slowed down to less than 2.0% per year between 2010 and 2011.
Throughout the OECD, tobacco consumption and excessive weight gain remain two important risk factors for many chronic diseases. Smoking rates among adults in New Zealand have decreased from 30.0% in 1985 to 16.5% today, a lower rate than the OECD average of 20.9%. In many OECD countries, large proportions of the population are overweight or obese. In New-Zealand the obesity rate is 27.8%, much higher than the OECD average of 17.2%. Obesity’s growing prevalence foreshadows increases in the occurrence of health problems (such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and asthma), and higher health care costs in the future.
When asked, “How is your health in general?”89% of people in New Zealand reported to be in good health, much higher than the OECD average of 69% and one of the highest scores across the OECD. Despite the subjective nature of this question, answers have been found to be a good predictor of people’s future health care use. Gender, age and social status may affect answers to this question. On average in OECD countries, men are more likely to report good health than women, with an average of 72% for men and 67% for women. In New Zealand, there is little difference between men and women at 90% for men and 89% for women. Not surprisingly, older people report poorer health, as do those who are unemployed, or who have less education or income. About 95% of adults with a disposable income in the top 20% in New Zealand rate their health as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, compared to about 92% for those with a disposable income in the bottom 20%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Life Satisfaction – New Zealand expand
Happiness or subjective well-being can be measured in terms of life satisfaction, the presence of positive experiences and feelings, and the absence of negative experiences and feelings. Such measures, while subjective, are a useful complement to objective data to compare the quality of life across countries.
Life satisfaction measures how people evaluate their life as a whole rather than their current feelings. It captures a reflective assessment of which life circumstances and conditions are important for subjective well-being. When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, New Zealanders gave it a 7.3 grade, higher than the OECD average of 6.6.
There is little difference in life satisfaction levels between men and women across OECD countries. This is true in New Zealand, where both men and women gave their life a 7.3 grade. Education levels influence subjective well-being in many OECD countries but in New-Zealand there is no difference between with people who have only completed primary education and people with tertiary education, both reporting a life satisfaction level of 7.6.
Happiness, or subjective well-being, is also measured by the presence of positive experiences and feelings, and/or the absence of negative experiences and feelings. In New Zealand 85% of people reported having more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc.) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc.). This figure is much higher than the OECD average of 76% and makes New-Zealand one of the happiest countries in the OECD.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Safety – New Zealand expand
Personal security is a core element for the well-being of individuals, and largely reflects the risks of people being physically assaulted or falling victim to other types of crime. Across the OECD, assault rates have generally declined in the past five years. In New Zealand, 2.2% of people reported falling victim to assault over the previous 12 months, less than the OECD average of 3.9%. There is a difference of almost 2 percentage points between men and women in assault rates, at respectively 3.2% and 1.4%.
The homicide rate (the number of murders per 100,000 inhabitants) is a more reliable measure of a country’s safety level because, unlike other crimes, murders are usually always reported to the police. According to the latest OECD data, New Zealand’s homicide rate is 1.9, lower than the OECD average of 4.1. In New Zealand, the homicide rate for men is 2.5 compared with 1.4 for women.
Fear of crime is another important indicator as it can constrain behaviour, restrict freedom and threaten the foundation of communities. Despite a general reduction in assault rates in the past five years, in many OECD countries feelings of security have declined. In New Zealand, 67% of people feel safe walking alone at night, slightly lower than the OECD average of 69%. While men are at a greater risk of being victims of assaults and violent crimes, women report lower feelings of security than men. This has been explained by a greater fear of sexual attacks, the feeling they must also protect their children and their concern that they may be seen as partially responsible.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Work-Life Balance – New Zealand expand
Finding a suitable balance between work and life is a challenge for all workers, especially working parents. Some couples would like to have (more) children, but do not see how they could afford to stop working. Other parents are happy with the number of children in their family, but would like to work more. This is a challenge to governments because if parents cannot achieve their desired work/life balance, not only is their welfare lowered but so is development in the country.
People spend one-tenth to one-fifth of their time on unpaid work. The distribution of tasks within the family is still influenced by gender roles: men are more likely to spend more hours in paid work, while women spend longer on unpaid domestic work. Men in New Zealand, spend 141 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring, in line with the OECD average but still considerably less than New Zealand women who spend 264 minutes per day on average on domestic work.
Another important aspect of work-life balance is the amount of time a person spends at work. Evidence suggests that long work hours may impair personal health, jeopardize safety and increase stress. People in New Zealand work 1 739 hours a year, lower than the OECD average of 1 765 hours. Another key measure, however, is how many people work very long hours. The share of employees working 50 hours or more per week is not very large across OECD countries. However, in New Zealand, some 13% of employees work very long hours, more than the OECD average of 9%. Overall, men spend more hours in paid work: in New Zealand 19% of men work very long hours, compared with 7% for women.
The more people work, the less time they have to spend on other activities, such as time with others or leisure. The amount and quality of leisure time is important for people’s overall well-being, and can bring additional physical and mental health benefits. In New Zealand,full-time workers devote 62% of their day on average, or 14.9 hours, to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc.) and leisure (socialising with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer and television use, etc.) – slightly less than the OECD average of 15 hours. Fewer hours in paid work for women do not necessarily result in greater leisure time. In New Zealand, both men and women devote approximately 15 hours per day to personal care and leisure.
Better Policies for Better Lives
High fertility and female employment rates, but challenges for single parents
New Zealand has experienced a steady growth in the female employment rate, which currently stands at 67%, well above the OECD average of 57%. Rising female employment has been coupled with rising wages for women too; the gender-wage gap, at 4%, is currently the 2nd lowest in the OECD, and three times less than the OECD average. The total fertility rate has also increased over the last decade and is now well above the OECD average of 1.7 children per woman. High fertility and female employment rates in New Zealand, suggest overall compatibility between work and family life. However, Maori and Pacific ethnic groups combine high fertility rates with much lower female employment rates.
Although the overall spending per child fell between 2003 and 2007, there has been a welcome increase in early-childhood spending and childcare provision. The increase in spending on children aged 0-5 years as a share of spending on all children was one of the largest in the OECD.
Overall, child outcomes in New Zealand are mixed: the child poverty rate, at 13.3%, is the same as the OECD average, infant deaths have fallen while proportion of low-weight births has also decreased. PISA reading scores are above the OECD average. But the proportion of older children not in education or employment, at 9.3 is higher than the OECD average of 8.0%.
A good package of policies, including flexible workplace practices and affordable early childhood care and education services, helps New Zealand families to reconcile work and family and female life. Part-time work is a common working practice used by New Zealand mothers who reduce their working hours when their child is young but return to full-time work when the child starts school.