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Measuring Changes in Family and Whānau Wellbeing Using Census Data, 1981–2006

Executive Summary

The impact of the rapid and far-reaching economic, social and political changes and reforms of the 1980s and 1990s on different family types is not as well understood as the effect of the reforms on the economy. This publication aims to contribute to filling this gap by examining changes in the wellbeing of a range of different family types over the period 1981–2006. These changes are examined using a series of family wellbeing indicators constructed from data available in Statistics New Zealand’s five-yearly Census of Population and Dwellings. The main advantages of using census data are that they provide a consistent and long time series of social data and that, because of their scale, they allow the effect of change on small population groups to be examined.

Given the absence of an overall index of wellbeing for each family type in this analysis, it is difficult to quantify the overall change in family wellbeing over the period. However, if income is taken as the best measure of levels of wellbeing, then for both sets of analyses almost all family and household types became better off over the 25 years in question. Furthermore, all family and household types in both sets of analyses improved their educational and employment levels. However, almost all family and household types worked longer hours, experienced declining levels of both home ownership and rental affordability, and had increasing receipt of health-related benefits. The picture with regard to crowding was mixed, with levels of crowding declining for most Māori families and some family types in the all families analysis, but increasing for others.

Although the usefulness of this analysis is restricted due to limitations in the range of indicators available from census data, it does provide a unique means of examining changes in family wellbeing for small population groups over the 25-year period, that is not available from other data sources. In addition, including data points from 1981 provides information about changes occurring in the early period of reforms that is not available from other sample surveys (for example, the Household Labour Force Survey, which measures unemployment, began in 1986).

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this occasional paper are the personal views of the authors and should not be taken to represent the views or policy of Statistics New Zealand or the Government. Although all reasonable steps have been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, no responsibility is accepted for the reliance by any person on any information contained in this occasional paper, nor for any error in or omission from the occasional paper.

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