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What contributes most to life satisfaction

This chapter discusses the measures that contribute to overall life satisfaction. These are measures, which are found to be significantly affecting overall life satisfaction and show the size/strength of its contribution.

Based on our model of the measures that contribute to life satisfaction, holding other variables equal, relationships had the strongest association with life satisfaction. This was followed by health and income (see table 2).

Table 2
Measures that contribute to overall life satisfaction

 Subjective measure

 Contribution

 Percent(1)

 Size/strength(2)

 Loneliness  7.45  Large
 Health status  6.68  Large
 Income adequacy  5.22  Large
 Number of housing problems  3.08  Large
 General trust  2.79  Large
 Trust in courts  2.42  Large
 Importance of culture  0.32  Small
 Te reo Māori proficiency  0.21  Small
1. R-squared of model (1) and subjective measure
2. Large=contribution of 1.0 percentage point or more to R-square; moderate=contribution of 0.5<1.0 percentage point to R-square; small=contribution of 0.1<0.5 percentage point to R-square; very small=contribution of less than 0.1 percentage point to R-square.
Source: Statistics New Zealand

These results confirm findings from previous studies, and that Māori life satisfaction is driven by the same factors that drive the general population.

Relationships are important to Māori

We included these aspects of our relationship in our model: partnership status, loneliness, regular contact with whānau who live outside the home, and volunteering. Holding other variables equal:

  • Māori who had not felt lonely in the last four weeks gave higher life satisfaction ratings than those who felt lonely to some extent.
  • Māori who are partnered gave higher life satisfaction ratings than those not partnered.
  • Having regular contact with whānau who live outside the home was a huge factor for life satisfaction. However, when we considered the subjective measure of loneliness, contact with whānau has little significance.
  • No significant association exists between doing voluntary work for a group or organisation in the last four weeks and life satisfaction.

Feeling lonely most of the time had the biggest impact on life satisfaction, compared with never feeling lonely (see figure 2). Māori who felt lonely all the time in the last four weeks reported lower levels of life satisfaction than those who never felt lonely (a difference of around 0.5 points).

Figure 2

Graph, Overall life satisfaction, for Maori aged 15+, June–August 2013.

These results are consistent with findings from other studies and confirm that relationships are important to life satisfaction. What is interesting however, is that in our model, relationships, through the loneliness measure, make the largest contribution to life satisfaction. In comparison, many other models (including the NZGSS model which looks at the New Zealand population) show that health followed by income make the largest contributions to life satisfaction. That relationships play a larger role in life satisfaction for Māori seems to support the importance of whanaungatanga (kinship with others) in te ao Māori. Whanaungatanga, an intrinsic aspect of Māori culture, values and prioritises interdependence with others to strengthen bonds of kinship, which in turn strengthens the individual.

Good health associated with higher life satisfaction

Health status is associated with overall life satisfaction. Māori who assessed their health status as good, very good, or excellent are more likely to have higher life satisfaction than Māori who assessed their health status as fair or poor. Holding other variables equal, the life satisfaction score of Māori with poor health is three times lower than Māori with good health (see figure 3)

Figure 3

Graph, Health status – effect on life satisfaction, for Maori aged 15+, June–August 2013.

Having enough income associated with higher life satisfaction

Māori who have ‘more than enough’ or ‘enough’ income to meet their everyday needs report higher levels of life satisfaction than those who have ‘only just enough’ or ‘not enough’ (see figure 4). Holding all other variables equal, Māori who don’t have enough income rate their life satisfaction 0.5 points lower than those who have more than enough income.

Figure 4

Graph, Income adequacy – effect on life satisfaction, For Maori aged 15+, June–August 2013.

Household income shows no independent relationship with life satisfaction. This is somewhat different from many other studies that have found a significant relationship. This may be partly accounted for by including income adequacy, unemployment, and education in our model, which are strongly correlated with household income.

Negative correlation between number of housing problems and life satisfaction

The number of housing problems makes a large contribution to life satisfaction variation. Results of regression analysis showed that as the number of housing problems increases, the overall life satisfaction of Māori decreases with a regression coefficient of -0.05.

Trust has significant association

Trust in other people has a large contribution to life satisfaction for Māori. Our modelling showed that as trust in others increases, life satisfaction also increases.

Trust in institutions also has a significant association with life satisfaction for Māori. We included a measure of trust in the courts in our model of life satisfaction. This showed that as trust in the courts increases, so too does life satisfaction.

Small association with unemployment and education

Both unemployment and highest educational qualification have a small but significant association with the life satisfaction of Māori.

Previous studies showed that unemployment has a large negative association with life satisfaction, but our model showed a much smaller association. This difference may be due to the inclusion of income adequacy in our model, a measure strongly correlated to unemployment.

Māori with a level 7 bachelor’s degree or higher are more likely to report higher levels of life satisfaction than those with no qualification or a school-level qualification. This finding is consistent with previous studies.

Having children a positive association

Findings from the demographic measures in our model are consistent with those from previous studies. Life satisfaction is ‘u-shaped’ in age, with the lowest levels occurring in the mid-50s. A positive effect is associated with being female, and a small negative effect with living in the city.

Living with children has a small positive association with life satisfaction. Holding other factors equal, Māori who live with dependent children rate their life satisfaction 0.1 points higher on average than those who did not live with dependent children.

This finding is interesting because many studies have not found an association between having children and life satisfaction (ONS, 2013), including New Zealand studies (Brown et al, 2010). This could indicate the relative importance of children in te ao Māori – the role of children in continuing the whakapapa line.


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