New Zealanders aged 55 and over now own more than half of the country's total net wealth, largely thanks to the house price boom in the past decade.

Roy Morgan's "state of the nation" report says the 55-plus group has increased its share of net wealth from 43 per cent in 2002 to 52 per cent last year. Their share of the population also rose in the same period, but only from 19.5 per cent to 24.7 per cent.

The value of their own homes accounted for 56 per cent of their wealth a decade ago, and 70 per cent last year. But their incomes have also been boosted by staying at work longer. Almost half (48 per cent) of the 55-plus group are now in the paid workforce, up from 35 per cent in 2002, and they now account for almost a quarter of the total workforce.

Roy Morgan chief executive Michele Levine said the growing numbers of older people should be seen as an asset for the country, rather than a burden.


"Older people have acquired more assets, they are more affluent, they are more healthy, and therefore continue working for longer," she said.

A huge 85 per cent of them own their own homes, compared with 67 per cent of all New Zealanders aged 14 or over. Ms Levine said those houses could be used as security to grow businesses or to help adult children start businesses or buy their own houses.

"In Australia we are seeing the baby-boomers leveraging their houses for businesses or to help get their kids get started in business," she said. "It doesn't say, 'It's a house, you can't eat a house.' You actually can use it if you change your mindset."

She said it would also be wrong to see older workers as taking jobs off unemployed young people.

"Whenever there is high unemployment, youth are the first ones to be hit. They have no experience. They are not work-ready," she said. "People who are well educated are less likely to strike problems. Do we see them as a burden on society? Of course not.

"People with experience are more likely to get jobs. Do we see them as a burden? Of course not. Older people with experience who are skilled and happy to work - we see them as a burden on society taking young people's jobs. I think we need to rethink that."