Treasury paper

Trends in Wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand, 2000-2020


Thanks to all the individuals and agencies who have generously provided data and feedback on drafts, particularly Stats NZ, the Social Wellbeing Agency and the Ministries of Education, Health, Justice, Social Development, Environment and Housing and Urban Development. 

Executive summary#

This paper is the first in a series of detailed background papers designed to support the Treasury’s first Wellbeing Report.

This paper provides a high-level summary of some key trends in the indicators of wellbeing presented in the Living Standards Framework Dashboard. It provides a complementary view to the more-detailed reports published by other agencies that look closely at particular aspects of wellbeing, such as health, and the distinctive features of wellbeing of particular groups in the population, such as children and disabled people. We provide links to these more-detailed reports and data sources throughout.

This paper focuses on three key questions:

  • Where are we as a country positioned on average in comparison to other countries across the various domains of wellbeing?
  • Has our situation improved, worsened, or stayed stable over time?
  • Are there any notable differences in the distribution of wellbeing across various groups in the population?

The answers to these questions present a decidedly mixed picture. We in Aotearoa New Zealand are positioned well in many respects, with very high air quality, high rates of employment and volunteering, and high levels of social connection and life satisfaction, for example.

However, we also face many challenges and opportunities for improvement. In some areas such as the educational achievement of our children we are behind the highest-performing countries and key metrics are trending downwards. In areas such as health obesity levels continue to grow along with conditions such as diabetes, and smoking rates continue to pose a substantial health burden, particularly on Māori and Pacific communities. For those who don’t own their own house, there are problems with affordability, habitability and crowding.

There are also many important differences in the distribution of wellbeing across demographic subgroups. Ethnic and gender-related differences can be found throughout this paper. Some of the most striking differences relate to disability, with disabled people having much lower wellbeing than non-disabled people on many indicators.

Age also stands out strongly on many of the metrics we examine. In many OECD countries older age groups do worse on many metrics but, in this country, we have achieved high levels of wellbeing for most of our older people. However, there are many causes for concern when it comes to the wellbeing of children and young people.

For example, we have the highest rate of bullying in the OECD. We also have declining levels of school attendance, especially in lower-decile schools. The proportion of people aged 15-24 with high or very high levels of psychological distress has increased from 5% in 2011/12 to 19% in 2020/21. Loneliness is highest among people aged 15-24 and has increased substantially between 2014 and 2018. Teen suicide rates are among the worst in the OECD. The rate of young people not in employment, education or training is higher than the OECD average and is climbing for young men.