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Te Kupenga has a broad framework of well-being
The aim of Te Kupenga was to gather information on the well-being of Māori, so we used a Māori world view to design the survey. A literature review and wide-ranging consultation with Māori stakeholders informed this. As such, the content of Te Kupenga provided a broad framework of Māori well-being that we used for this analysis.

We have also drawn on previous work

In developing a framework to explore the determinants of Māori life satisfaction, we also drew on research across many countries. In doing so we developed these themes.

Demographic characteristics

While many studies show mixed results for demographic characteristics (eg sex, having children, and location), one constant is the relationship between life satisfaction and age. Youths and older people consistently report higher levels of life satisfaction than those middle-aged. This ‘u-shaped’ relationship between age and life satisfaction does not change when controlling for other factors, such as income and health status (Dolan, Peasgood, & White, 2008).


Income plays an important role in people’s life satisfaction. The ability to control resources allows people to satisfy basic needs and pursue other goals they deem important to their life. Studies show that income has a strong positive relationship with life satisfaction (Sacks, Stevenson, & Wolfers, 2010; Brown, Smith, & Woolf, 2010). Higher income is associated with higher levels of life satisfaction, but with diminishing returns as income increases.


Not only does employment provide people with income, but it also has independent benefits to life satisfaction around self-esteem, sense of purpose, and creating social networks. Unemployment is associated with a large negative impact on life satisfaction (Dolan, Peasgood, & White, 2008). However, people without a job but are not unemployed (eg retired, students, and full-time parents), do not tend to report lower levels of life satisfaction than those who have a job (Blanchflower & Oswald, 2011).


Housing is a basic human need. As well as providing shelter from extreme weather, it offers privacy and security, and a suitable place to rest and raise a family. As such housing is valuable to people. While little literature exists on the relationship between housing and life satisfaction, analysis from the New Zealand General Social Survey (NZGSS) highlighted that satisfaction with the quality of one’s home has a moderate independent relationship with life satisfaction for New Zealanders (Statistics NZ, 2013).


The literature on the relationship between health status and life satisfaction is extensive. Analysis from the NZGSS highlighted the importance of good health to life satisfaction (Statistics NZ, 2013). Self-assessed health status has a large positive impact on life satisfaction (Dolan, Peasgood, & White 2008). This relationship holds for measures of both mental and physical health. Although some evidence shows high life satisfaction actually causes good health (Diener & Chan, 2011), a strong causal relationship also flows from health to life satisfaction (Lucas, 2007). Many studies find that self-assessed health has the single largest relationship with life satisfaction (Office for National Statistics, 2013; Statistics NZ, 2013).


No strong independent relationship seems to exist between education and life satisfaction. Bivariate analysis on NZGSS data showed that people with higher educational qualifications have higher levels of life satisfaction (Statistics NZ, 2013). However, we can explain this correlation through analysis that shows more educated people tend to have higher incomes, better health, and more social capital (Heliwell, 2008). Once these relationships are controlled for, the relationship often disappears. This suggests that rather than having no influence on life satisfaction, education influences it indirectly by increasing positive outcomes that directly influence life satisfaction.


Relationships with others is a fundamental human need. They provide material and emotional support in times of need, and access to jobs and other opportunities. Social connections and human contact are strongly associated with life satisfaction (Brown et al, 2010; Statistics NZ, 2013). Other measures of social support and trust in others are also positively associated with life satisfaction (Helliwell & Wang, 2011). Living in a stable relationship is positively associated with life satisfaction (Heliwell, 2008). Formal aspects of social life and community relationships, such as volunteering, were less predictive of subjective well-being.

Civic engagement

Civic engagement refers to the various activities people perform to express their political voice and to contribute to the political functioning of society. Civic and political rights are a cornerstone of democratic societies – this involves confidence in our police and justice system and trust in our political systems. The available evidence suggests a weak but significant relationship between participation in civil society and life satisfaction. Internationally, perceptions that corruption is widespread have a strong negative correlation with average life satisfaction (Heliwell, 2008).

There is little evidence of a relationship between safety and security and life satisfaction. Studies that have looked at the impact of crime victimisation on life satisfaction have produced mixed results (Brown et al, 2010).

Connection to culture and life satisfaction

Separate schools of thought that support a Māori-centred approach are clear that Māori culture is fundamental to the well-being of Māori. This is consistent with Mason Durie’s concept of four cornerstones of Māori health as presented in the Ministry of Health’s Te Whare Tapa Whā (Ministry of Health, nd). Te Kupenga explored the connection to Māori culture through tikanga, te reo Māori, whanaungatanga, and wairuatanga.

There has been very little evidence on the relationship between life satisfaction and the connection to one’s culture, including Māori culture. Te Kupenga provided the opportunity to explore this relationship through data for the first time.

Table 1 describes the variables we included in each domain of our framework.

Table 1
Te Kupenga variables by outcome domain

 Outcome domain  Variable
 Demographic characteristics  Male
 Have children
 Income  Household income
 Not enough money
 Paid work  Unemployment
 Housing conditions  Number of housing problems
 Health status  Health status
 Education and Skills  Highest qualification
 Relationships  Social marital status
 Contact with whānau
 Civic engagement and Governance  Trust in people
 Trust in courts
 Personal security  Experience of crime
 Cultural connections  Been to ancestral marae
 Importance of culture
 Te reo speaking proficiency
Source: Statistics New Zealand

Our framework doesn’t explain it all

Previous studies show that you cannot fully explain the variation in people’s reports of life satisfaction simply through the aspects of life in our framework. In 2013 the Office of National Statistics explained 10–19 percent of the variation in the levels of well-being among British people with a framework roughly similar to ours (Office for National Statistics, 2013).

Some aspects related to life satisfaction are not included in our framework because we did not collect them in Te Kupenga. For example, genes and personality explain much of the differences between people’s levels of well-being. These differences may explain up to half the variations observed (Diener, 1996).

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