A high level of car ownership, heaps of bedrooms and bathrooms in our homes and our ownership of computers, cellphones and dishwashers mean New Zealand has the third highest material living standard in the world for households with a teenager.

The new measure of wellbeing developed in New Zealand, which uses data from almost 800,000 households over 40 countries, has found Kiwi homes with a 15-year-old student had the third highest material living standards in 2012.

The country that achieved the lowest ranking on the Material Wellbeing Index was Indonesia, while first place went to the United States, followed by Canada.

The index is based on ownership of possessions - ranging from books, dishwashers, cars, computers and cellphones - to internet access and housing configuration, such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms in a home.


The measurement, developed over about two years by Dr Arthur Grimes and Sean Hyland of public policy research institute Motu, which was released today, ranked New Zealand ahead of Australia and all Scandinavian countries.

"Our results show New Zealand is still a great place to bring up children, at least in material terms," Dr Grimes said.

The research found New Zealand had the second and seventh highest mean possession rate for cars and bathrooms respectively, which drove up its ranking.

Dr Grimes said easy access to borrowing money for New Zealanders meant Kiwis could buy things such as cars and housing in most parts of the country.

This was despite the fact that New Zealand's 2014 gross national income per capita ranking was 35th of 213 countries (Australia ranked 10th and the US ranked 15th).

Researchers also found Kiwi households were less likely to have a quiet place for a student to study - ranking us 24th out of 40.

Kiwi homes ranked 23rd by the average number of bedrooms.

"This might suggest that New Zealand's material welfare is in jeopardy if further reductions in housing amenities per capita occur due to pressures in the Auckland housing market," Dr Grimes said.


The study also looked at the degree of inequality in household material wellbeing, which fell in most countries, including New Zealand, between 2000 and 2012.

In 2012, the Netherlands was found to have the lowest level of inequality, while the most inequality was in Mexico.

New Zealand ranked 20th for inequality.

Family's hard work pays off

Though Tayla O'Keeffe is not from the richest family in town, she reckons she's got it pretty good.

The 15-year-old, who lives with her family in Hawera, has access to a lot of the stuff that's been used by researchers to create the "material wellbeing index" on which New Zealand ranks third out of 40 countries.

She has her own bedroom, access to books, and the family have artworks on the walls. There are a couple of TVs, two cars, a dishwasher and a family computer with internet access. Though she doesn't have a study, she does most of her homework on her bed or at the dining room table, and her mother, a teacher, has educational software on her computer.

"We have the essentials, I feel like we're doing pretty good."

Tayla said Hawera was a small town and there were definite gaps between people who had "barely anything" and those who had everything. "I'm lucky to just be smack bang in the middle."

Her mother, Hayley O'Keeffe, said she was happy with what the family had, too. "We're in a really good place at the moment, we've worked quite hard to get to where we are.

"Often I'll say, 'Oh I've got no money', but we've got things like a car and MySky - things that if we really didn't have money, we wouldn't have."

She said there was a time when things had been tight - when she was on maternity leave.

"I've got a mortgage, and things like car payments, but we're quite fortunate in that I can turn to my family if we're really short - and I know that's not the case for a lot."

Key points

•Kiwi households have the OECD's third-highest level of access to material possessions - especially cars - despite not ranking highly by gross national income per capita.

•New Zealand ranked a mediocre 20th for level of inequality, out of 40 countries, which included the 34 OECD countries.

•Despite a positive relationship between access to possessions such as cars, housing and electronic goods, and national income per capita, the material wellness measure ranks countries differently from the World Bank's gross national income per capita.

•Analysis by Kiwi researchers suggests this is because of better access to credit in countries that ranked highly on the material wellbeing index.

•Researchers suggest the world is becoming a more equal place because of a reduction in inequality between 2000 and 2012 across 36 of the 40 countries looked at.