'Life shocks' tip people into hardship

By Ruth Berry
[Link to full report at end of story]

One "life shock" needn't have a big effect on our lives.

But anyone who gets to eight shocks could be getting close to tipping point, researchers have found.

"Life shocks" are events such as marriage break-up, health problems, family deaths or financial disasters.

Their effect on living standards is examined for the first time in a Ministry of Social Development report issued yesterday.

It says that while the amount of money a person makes plays a significant role in determining living standards, other factors, including life shocks, also play a part.

People who reported between one and seven life shocks had a similar living standard to those who'd had none.

"People who have eight or more life shocks have a substantially lower living standard, and a higher likelihood of hardship than those who have not."

The report suggests the pattern could reflect a "threshold effect" in which several adverse incidents "produce a large collective effect ... or tipping point". It said 6 per cent of people who had no life shocks suffered severe or significant hardship, compared with 9 per cent among those who had one to seven shocks.

But once the total reached eight or more life shocks, 18 per cent suffered severe hardship and a further 15 per cent significant hardship.

People whose marriages or similar relationships had broken up reported greater hardship.

Eight per cent of those who hadn't had such a break-up reported hardship, but 26 per cent of those who'd been through two or more break-ups were living in hardship.

About 65 per cent of people in the survey had never had a marriage-like break-up, 25 per cent reported one and 10 per cent reported more than one.

Women reported fewer break-ups, but greater hardship than men.

Social Development Ministry researcher John Jensen said the information would be used to develop social policy.


WHAT'S YOUR SCORE?

The 17-event life shock list ... tick off the ones you've had.

* Marriage (or similar) break-ups

* Forced sale of house

* Unexpected and substantial drop in income

* Eviction from home or flat

* Bankruptcy

* Substantial financial loss

* Redundancy

* Becoming a sole parent

* 3 months or more unemployed

* Major damage to home

* House burgled

* Victim of violence

* Imprisonment

* A non-custodial sentence

* Illness lasting three weeks or more

* Major injury or health problem

* Unplanned pregnancy and birth of a child

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