NZ: How we're flourishing in world

By Andrew Koubaridis

An OECD study examining the quality of life in 36 countries puts us in the top bracket but the gap between the highest and lowest income earners stands out. Andrew Koubaridis looks at each category.

Housing represents the largest single expenditure for many people. Photo / Richard Robinson
Housing represents the largest single expenditure for many people. Photo / Richard Robinson

Housing

Housing represents the largest single expenditure for many people. In New Zealand households were found to have spent 26 per cent of their gross adjusted disposable income on housing - one of the highest levels in the OECD, which has an average of 21 per cent.

Other factors are also taken into account, including the average number of rooms per person and to what extent households had access to basic facilities.

NZ ranked 35 out of 36 countries in terms of housing expenditure but was third in the number of rooms per person.

Income

Household financial wealth is the total value of a household's financial worth. The average household net financial wealth is US$33,421 ($41,219), which is lower than the OECD average of US$40,516 ($49,963). The average net adjusted disposable income of the top 20 per cent of the population is estimated at US$43,498 a year, while the bottom 20 per cent live on an estimated US$8528 a year.

Of the 36 countries in the OECD, NZ ranked 16th in terms of household income and 16th in social inequality.

Jobs

Close to 73 per cent of the working-age population - aged 15 to 64 - has a paid job, higher than the OECD employment average of 66 per cent. An estimated 83 per cent of individuals with at least a tertiary education have a paid job, compared with an estimated 58 per cent for those without an upper secondary education. This 25-percentage-point difference is lower than the OECD average of 37 percentage points.

Women are still less likely than men to participate in the labour market. Sixty-seven per cent of women have jobs - more than the OECD average of 60 per cent but less than the 78 per cent employment rate of men, while young people aged 15-24 have an unemployment rate of 17.3 per cent compared with the OECD average of 16.2 per cent.

The percentage of the labour force that has been unemployed for a year or longer is 0.6 per cent, lower than the OECD average of 3.1 per cent.

Community

On average New Zealanders spend 13 minutes a day in volunteering activities - twice the average in the OECD. Around 67 per cent reported having helped a stranger in the past month. The OECD average is 48 per cent.

Ninety-three per cent of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need, more than the OECD average of 90 per cent.

Education

Seventy-three per cent of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high school qualification, close to the OECD average of 74 per cent.

New Zealand is also a top-performing OECD country in reading literacy, maths and sciences with the average student scoring 524. This score is higher than the OECD average of 497, making New Zealand one of the strongest OECD countries in students' skills. On average girls outperformed boys by 15 points, more than the average OECD gap of nine points, with an overall score of 532 points compared with 517 points for boys.

The best-performing school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students. The average difference in results between the 20 per cent with the highest socio-economic background and the 20 per cent with the lowest socio-economic background is 119 points, higher than the OECD average of 99 points.

Environment

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 11.7 micrograms per cu m, much lower than the OECD average of 20.9 micrograms per cu m and much lower than the annual guideline limit of 20 micrograms per cu m set by the World Health Organisation.

Eighty-eight per cent of people say they are satisfied with water quality. This figure is slightly higher than the OECD average of 84 per cent.

Civic engagement

Sixty-seven per cent of people say they trust their political institutions, more than the OECD average of 56 per cent. High voter turnout is another measure of public trust in government and of citizens' participation in the political process. In the most recent elections voter turnout was 74 per cent of those registered, slightly higher than the OECD average of 72 per cent.

Voter turnout for the top 20 per cent of the population is estimated at 81 per cent, whereas the participation rate of the bottom 20 per cent is estimated at 75 per cent. This six-percentage-point difference is lower than the OECD average difference of 12 percentage points, and suggests there is broad social inclusion in New Zealand's democratic institutions.

Health

Life expectancy at birth 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.

Health spending is estimated at 10.1 per cent of GDP, higher than the OECD average of 9.5 per cent. However, New Zealand ranks below the OECD average in terms of total health spending per person, at US$3022 in 2010, compared with an OECD average of US$3268.

Smoking rates among adults have decreased from 30.0 per cent in 1985 to 18.1 per cent today, a lower rate than the OECD average of 21.1 per cent. In many OECD countries, large proportions of the population are overweight or obese. In New Zealand the obesity rate is 27.8 per cent, much higher than the OECD average of 17.8 per cent.

When asked, "How is your health in general?" 89 per cent of people reported themselves in good health, much higher than the OECD average of 69 per cent.

Life satisfaction

When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, New Zealanders gave it a 7.2 grade, higher than the OECD average of 6.6.

There is little difference in life satisfaction levels between men and women across OECD countries. Education levels strongly influence subjective well-being in many OECD countries but in New Zealand the difference is relatively small.

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 83 per cent of people reported having more positive experiences in an average day than negative ones. This figure is higher than the OECD average of 80 per cent.

Safety

In New Zealand, 2.2 per cent of people reported falling victim to assault over the previous 12 months, lower than the OECD average of 4.0 per cent. There is a difference of almost two percentage points between men and women in assault rates, at respectively 3.2 per cent and 1.4 per cent.

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. New Zealand's homicide rate is 0.9, lower than the OECD average of 2.2. The homicide rate for men is 1.1 compared with 0.7 for women. Eighty-one per cent of people feel safe walking alone at night, higher than the OECD average of 67 per cent. While men are at a greater risk of being victims of assaults and violent crimes, women report lower feelings of security than men.

Work-life balance

Men spend 158 minutes a day cooking, cleaning or caring, more than the OECD average of 131 minutes - but still considerably less than women who spend 294 minutes a day on average on domestic work.

New Zealanders work 1762 hours a year, lower than the OECD average of 1776 hours. The share of employees working more than 50 hours a week is not very large across OECD countries. However, in New Zealand, 13 per cent of employees work very long hours, more than the OECD average of 9 per cent. Overall, men spend more hours in paid work.

And when taking leisure into account, New Zealanders devote 65 per cent of their day, or 14.9 hours, to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc) and leisure in line with the OECD average.

Fewer hours in paid work for women do not necessarily result in greater leisure time.

How we are flourishing in world

- NZ Herald

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