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
* Substantial financial loss
* Becoming a sole parent
* 3 months or more unemployed
* Major damage to home
* House burgled
* Victim of violence
* A non-custodial sentence
* Illness lasting three weeks or more
* Major injury or health problem
* Unplanned pregnancy and birth of a child