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Household Labour Force Survey: September 2013 quarter
Embargoed until 10:45am  –  06 November 2013
Data quality

Period-specific information
This section is for information that changes between periods.

General information
This section has information about data that does not change between releases.

Period-specific information

Achieved sample and response rate

In the September 2013 quarter 30,296 people in 15,337 households responded to the Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS).

The target response rate for the HLFS is 90 percent. The response rate for the September 2013 quarter was 84.7 percent and the achieved sample rate was 74.7 percent.

Changes to seasonal adjustment

Two changes have been made to our seasonal adjustment series this quarter. We have introduced a moving holiday effect for our hours worked series. This adjusts for when Easter occasionally falls in the March quarter rather than the June quarter, as we saw earlier this year. The second was to make a permanent prior adjustment to the March 2008 and December 2012 quarters. These are discussed in the seasonal adjustment section.

General information

Data source

The target population for the HLFS is the civilian, usually resident, non-institutionalised population aged 15 years and over.

The statistics in this release do not cover:

  • long-term residents of homes for older people, hospitals, and psychiatric institutions 
  • inmates of penal institutions
  • members of the permanent armed forces
  • members of the non-New Zealand armed forces 
  • overseas diplomats
  • overseas visitors who expect to be a resident in New Zealand for less than 12 months
  • those aged under 15 years.

Accuracy of the data

Sample design

The HLFS sample contains about 15,000 private households and about 30,000 individuals each quarter. We sample households on a statistically representative basis from areas throughout New Zealand, and obtain information for each member of the household. The sample is stratified by geographic region, urban and rural areas, ethnic density, and socio-economic characteristics.

Households stay in the survey for two years. Each quarter, one-eighth of the households in the sample are rotated out and replaced by a new set of households. Therefore, up to seven-eighths of the same people are surveyed in adjacent quarters. This overlap improves the reliability of quarterly change estimates.

The period of surveying/interviewing is 13 weeks. The information obtained relates to the week before the interview (referred to as the ‘survey reference week’). We first interview respondents face-to-face at their home. Subsequent interviews are by telephone wherever possible. Respondents also have the option to file self-completed questionnaires.

Where practicable, we obtain information directly from each household member. Otherwise a proxy interview is conducted, in which details are obtained from another adult in the household.

Sampling errors

Sampling errors can be measured. They quantify the variability that occurs by chance because a sample rather than an entire population is surveyed.

We calculate sampling errors using the jackknife method. It is based on the variation between estimates of different subsamples taken from the whole sample. This is an attempt to see how estimates would vary if we were to repeat the survey with new samples of individuals.

We calculate sampling errors for each cell in the published tables and for estimates of change between adjacent quarters. For example, the estimated total number of people employed in the September 2013 quarter is 2,261,800 before seasonal adjustment. This estimate is subject to a sampling error of plus or minus 29,900, or 1.3 percent (measured at the 95 percent confidence level). This means that there is a 95 percent chance that the true number of employed people lies between 2,231,900 and 2,291,700.

Smaller estimates, such as the number of people who are unemployed, are subject to larger relative sampling errors than larger estimates. For example, the estimated total number of people unemployed in the September 2013 quarter is 148,300 before seasonal adjustment. This estimate is subject to a sampling error of plus or minus 9,700 or 6.6 percent (measured at the 95 percent confidence level). This means that there is a 95 percent chance that the true number of unemployed people lies between 138,600 and 158,100.

Estimates of change are also subject to sampling error. For example, the survey estimate of change in total employment from the September 2012 quarter to the September 2013 quarter is an increase of 53,700. This estimate is subject to a sampling error of plus or minus 28,400 (at the 95 percent confidence level). Therefore, the true value of the change in surveyed employment from the September 2012 quarter to the September 2013 quarter has a 95 percent chance of lying between  25,200 and 82,100.

A change in an estimate, either from one adjacent quarter to the next, or between quarters a year apart, is said to be statistically significant if it is larger than the associated sampling error. Therefore, the example quoted above represents a significant movement.

In general, the sampling errors associated with subnational estimates (eg breakdowns by regional council area or ethnic group) are larger than those associated with national estimates.

A non-sampling error is very difficult to measure, and if present can lead to biased estimates. Statistics NZ endeavours to minimise the impact of these errors by applying best survey practices and monitoring known indicators.

Response rate and achieved sample characteristics

The achieved sample size measure is the number of eligible households and individuals that responded to the HLFS in the quarter. The achieved sample size typically increases over time as the population grows and more dwellings are added to the survey sample.

The response rate is calculated by determining the number of eligible households that responded to the survey, as a proportion of the estimated number of total eligible households in the sample.

The following table shows the HLFS achieved sample and response rates for the last five quarters.

 HLFS achieved sample and response rates

National response rate (percent) 

Achieved sample rate (percent)  Achieved sample Individuals  Achieved sample Households 
 Sep 2012 82.6 70.2 26,850 14,442
 Dec 2012 84.4 71.6 28,139 14,776
 Mar 2013 85.8 74.9 30,212 15,434
 Jun 2013 80.8 70.9 28,088 14,740
 Sep 2013 84.7 74.7 30,296 15,337

Obtaining a sample that represents the population is essential when it comes to producing reliable labour force estimates. The HLFS goes through three stages of weighting to achieve this. For more information, please see New quality measures for the Household Labour Force Survey.

The following figure shows that while the distribution of the pre- and post-calibration weights differs within a quarter, the difference between the weights typically does not change from quarter to quarter.

The undercoverage rate gives an indication of how representative the pre-calibrated sample is. The higher the undercoverage rate, the less representative the pre-calibrated sample.

Usually the undercoverage rate in the HLFS is around 20 percent. The overall undercoverage rate for the HLFS in the September 2013 quarter was 15.1 percent. This compares with 18.5 percent in the June 2013 quarter and 25.6 percent in the September 2012 quarter.

Where practical, the HLFS gets information directly from each household member. Otherwise, a proxy interview is conducted, in which details are given by another adult in the household.

The quality of data from proxy responses is affected by two factors: what type of information is being asked for, and the relationship between the proxy (the person that the survey questions are being answered for) and the proxy respondent (the person replying to the questionnaire on behalf of the proxy). More than 90 percent of related people answer correctly for key variables. When the proxy and proxy respondent are unrelated there is still a high quality of response.

The proxy rate is calculated as the percentage of respondents who had someone else respond on their behalf divided by the total number of respondents. A typical proxy rate in the HLFS is around 30–35 percent. This excludes quarters when a supplement was attached to the HLFS. When a supplement is attached to the HLFS the proxy rate typically falls. This is because supplements often have different proxy rules, which have a small effect on how HLFS responses are collected.

The proxy rate for the HLFS in the September 2013 quarter was 33.6 percent. This compares with 22.3 percent in the June 2013 quarter and 24.5 percent in the September 2012 quarter. Supplements are attached to the HLFS in June quarters.

For full information on the introduction of the quality measures introduced this quarter, please see New quality measures for the Household Labour Force Survey.

Seasonal adjustment and trend series

In the labour market, cyclical events that affect labour supply and demand occur around the same time each year. For example, in the summertime a large pool of student labour is both available for, and actively seeking, work. Demand for labour in the retail sector and in many primary production industries also increases.

For any series, the estimates can be broken down into three components: trend, seasonal, and irregular. Seasonally adjusted series have had the seasonal component removed. Trend series have had both the seasonal and irregular components removed, and reveal the underlying direction of movement in a series.

The series for each labour market statistic is adjusted separately. For this reason, the sum of the seasonally adjusted estimates for employment, unemployment, and people not in the labour force will usually not add up to the working-age population estimates.

Seasonal adjustment has more information about how we seasonally adjust our statistics. Seasonal adjustment makes data for adjacent quarters more comparable by smoothing out the effect on the times series of any regular seasonal events. This ensures that the underlying movements in the time series are more visible. 

See the 'Revisions' section for information on the change in estimates between the current and previous publication for the seasonally adjusted and trend data.

All seasonally adjusted and trend series are produced using the X-12-ARIMA Version 0.2.10 package developed by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Adjusting for moving holidays

We have introduced an adjustment for holiday periods to our hours worked series. Recent analysis found that the timing of Easter (which can be in March or April) affects the number of hours people work. No other series are affected by the timing of Easter and did require this adjustment.

Prior adjustments made to historical data

The seasonal adjustment package used by Statistics New Zealand has an automatic procedure for dealing with outliers (observations which are far removed from the others in the series), which works well in most cases. However, in certain circumstances outliers need to be dealt with explicitly. This is done via a prior adjustment.

A prior adjustment has been made to the March 2008 and December 2012 quarters. This has been made to male and female series, including full-time and part-time employment, and hours worked.

In these quarters we observed an unusually high level of transitions of people out of employment. This was particularly the case where individuals had been employed in the previous quarter and were then employed again in the subsequent quarter. The level of this type of behaviour has only been observed in the March 2008, 2009 and December 2012 quarters.

Two of these quarters coincide with the Survey of Working Life in the March 2008 and December 2012 quarters, where people who were employed were asked additional questions to the standard HLFS about their working lives.

The size of the permanent prior adjustment has been chosen by our seasonal adjustment programme with input into which quarters require the adjustment. The permanent prior adjustment improves the quality of, and coherence between, the trend series and seasonally adjusted series. Previously, the trend series had identified the December 2012 quarter observations for female employment and not in the labour force.

Quality of seasonal adjustment

We monitor our data to make sure that our seasonal adjustment is robust.

The X-12-ARIMA programme is highly customisable and can produce a wide variety of possible adjustments for any particular input series. Consequently, X-12-ARIMA produces a number of diagnostics which are useful in assessing the quality of the chosen adjustment.

The following table provides a selection of diagnostics. The reference value indicates the desired value for each. Most are acceptable, though there is evidence of a changing seasonal pattern for the number of males who are unemployed and females who are not in the labour force. More detail about seasonal adjustment in the HLFS is available on request.

 Seasonal adjustment diagnostics


  Reference value Male employed Female empolyed Male unemployed Female unemployed Male not in labour force Female not in labour force
Test for sesonality <0.10  0.00 0.00  0.00  0.00  0.00  0.00
Test for moving seasonality  >0.10 0.09 0.62 0.04  0.33  0.40  0.06 
Period until trend dominates  <3
Trend contribution to change  <20 32.66  38.79  46.22  15.07  13.62  19.05 
Seasonal contribution to change  >50 58.65  44.24  34.26  67.05  73.72  53.65 
Irregular contribution to change  <20 8.53  16.16  19.52  17.88  12.39  26.12 
Quality statistic  <1 0.41 0.50  0.90  0.72  0.54  0.90 

During the seasonal adjustment process, X-12-ARIMA can give less weight to the irregular component. Specifically, if the estimated irregular component at a point in time is sufficiently large compared with the standard deviation of the irregular component as a whole, then the irregular component at that point can be downweighted or removed completely and re-estimated. Such observations are referred to as partial and zero-outliers, respectively. In practice, the downweighting of outliers will do little to seasonally adjusted data, but the impact of the outliers on the trend series will generally be reduced. However, if an outlier ceases to be an outlier as more data becomes available, then significant revisions to the trend series become possible. The table below shows partial (P) and zero (Z) outliers for the last year of each time series.


Male employed 

Female employed 

Male unemployed 

Female unemployed 

Male not in the labour force 

Female not in the labour force 

 Dec 2012        
 Mar 2013            
 Jun 2013            
 Sep 2013            
Suppression of data

Cells with estimates of less than 1,000 are suppressed and appear as ‘S’ in the tables. These estimates are subject to sampling errors too great for most practical purposes.

Rounding procedures

Figures presented in this release are rounded. Figures are rounded to the nearest hundred or to the nearest thousand for seasonally adjusted and trend estimates. This may result in a total disagreeing slightly with the sum of the individual items as shown in the table. Where figures are rounded the unit is shown as (000) for thousands.

Any quarterly and annual changes for figures are calculated on unrounded numbers. However quarterly and annual percentage point changes for rates are done on rounded rates.

How labour force statistics are classified

The HLFS release includes specific statistics about industry, occupation, study, ethnicity, and region. This section defines what we measure for each of these statistics.

Industry statistics

Since the September 2009 quarter, the industry statistics have been based on the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification 2006 (ANZSIC06), the latest edition of the classification. When ANZSIC06 was introduced, Statistics NZ developed the New Zealand Standard Industrial Output Categories (NZSIOC). Classifying industries using NZSIOC helps to standardise outputs. Industry outputs defined using ANZSIC06 are not comparable with those based on ANZSIC96, the version used before the September 2009 quarter.

Implementing ANZSIC 2006 in the Household Labour Force Survey has more information.

Occupation statistics

Since the September 2009 quarter, we have used the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) to classify occupation data in the HLFS. ANZSCO is a harmonised classification developed by Statistics NZ, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and the Australian Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, for use in both Australia and New Zealand. Occupation data was previously based on the New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations 1999 (NZSCO99). The occupation data is available on Infoshare.

Implementing ANZSCO in the Household Labour Force Survey has more information.

Māori benchmarks

Before April 2009, we did not benchmark the Māori working-age population to population estimates. This, along with other sample design restrictions, caused a high degree of volatility in Māori statistics in the HLFS. Movements in the working-age population estimates of certain ethnic groups, such as Māori, may reflect this volatility rather than a real change in the estimated ethnic demographic. Including Māori benchmarks in the working-age population mitigates the known undercount of Māori in the HLFS and also results in smoother time series for Māori statistics in the HLFS. However, introducing the Māori population benchmarks does not necessarily translate to improved estimates for non-Māori ethnic groups.

Household statistics

A household's labour force status is derived by looking at the labour force status of household members aged 18–64 years. For example, if a couple is living by themselves and one is aged 64 years and the other is aged 65 years, this couple will be assigned to the 'All employed' or 'None employed' category, depending on the labour force status of the 64-year-old.

Households that have no members aged 18–64 years are excluded from this analysis. The household categories incorporate the concept of dependent children rather than just children. A child is a person of any age who usually resides with at least one parent (natural, step, adopted, or foster) and who does not usually reside with a partner or children of his or her own. Statistics NZ defines a dependent child as a child under the age of 18 years and not in full-time employment.

Updated regional classification

In November 2010, the new Auckland territorial authority replaced the existing Rodney district, North Shore city, Auckland city, Waitakere city, Manukau city, Papakura district, and part of Franklin district councils. This resulted in a minor change in the boundary between the Auckland and Waikato regions.

From the June 2011 quarter, the statistics in the HLFS release were produced using the new boundaries and backcast for the March 2011 quarter. The new boundaries do not significantly affect measures from the HLFS.

Total response ethnicity

From the December 2011 quarter, the HLFS publishes ethnicity data using the total response ethnicity output in the information release. Using this method, people who reported that they belonged to more than one ethnic group are counted once in each group reported. This means that the total number of responses for all ethnic groups can be greater than the total number of people who stated their ethnicities.

Comparability with other datasets

Comparing our labour market statistics has more information on how the HLFS compares with the other labour market statistics that we produce. This web page explains which measures of employment are included in each of our employment releases, and the timings and coverage of each release.

A Guide to Unemployment Statistics has more information on comparing the HLFS with other datasets on unemployment. This web page explains which measures of unemployment are included in the HLFS, the unemployment benefit, and the job-seekers register. It also includes information on the timings, coverage, and different purposes of each of these measures.

HLFS comparable series 

The HLFS and the Quarterly Employment Survey (QES) are two different measures of employment and hours worked. The HLFS measures the number of employed people and the number of hours they usually work from New Zealand households; the QES measures the number of jobs and paid hours from New Zealand businesses. The table below compares the unadjusted annual percentage change of each surveys' employment and hours worked measure for recent quarters. The HLFS comparable series removes major differences between HLFS and QES, yet does not make adjustments for all differences. This provides an HLFS series that is more comparable with QES.

It removes the following categories from the HLFS, which are not collected by the QES:

  • self-employment
  • agricultural industry
  • individuals who work without pay in a family business.
  Annual change in employment Annual change in hours

 Year to

HLFS comparable series people employed 

QES filled jobs

HLFS comparable series usual hours

QES hours paid

 Sep 2012  0.3  1.4  -0.1  1.9
 Dec 2012  0.8  1.4  2.3  1.8
 Mar 2013  2.8  1.8  4.7  2.3
 Jun 2013  1.8  1.9  1.4  1.8
 Sep 2013   4.1   1.9  5.3  2.7

In the year to September 2013, the HLFS comparable series reported higher growth in both employment and hours with the QES. However, the QES showed stronger growth over most of 2012 compared to the HLFS comparable series.

Comparing our labour market statistics has more information on the differences between HLFS and QES.

International comparability of the labour force participation rate and the employment rate

Several alternative definitions of labour force participation rate and employment rate are used by other organisations and countries; they differ in the age of the working-age population and the inclusion of military personnel. A common definition is to restrict the labour force and working-age population to the 15–64-year age group, particularly in countries with a compulsory retirement age. Generally, this definition leads to a higher labour force participation rate and employment rate.

Using this definition for the New Zealand HLFS in the September 2013 quarter gives a surveyed figure of 77.9 percent (labour force participation rate) and 73.0 percent (employment rate).

Interpreting the data

Information releases contain seasonally adjusted, trend, and survey statistics for the latest quarter. These statistics are averages for the three-month period and do not apply to any specific point in time. Data sourced from the seasonally adjusted series and trend series are identified as such in the table or section headings. All other data, in the commentary or in tables, are sourced from the original survey series and are unadjusted.

Timing of published data

The HLFS is published within six weeks after the end of the quarter's reference period.


Only people authorised by the Statistics Act 1975 are allowed to see your individual information, and they must use it only for statistical purposes. Your information is combined with similar information from other people or households to prepare summary statistics.

More information

See more information about the Household Labour Force Survey


While all care and diligence has been used in processing, analysing, and extracting data and information in this publication, Statistics NZ gives no warranty it is error-free and will not be liable for any loss or damage suffered by the use directly, or indirectly, of the information in this publication.


Our information releases are delivered electronically by third parties. Delivery may be delayed by circumstances outside our control. Statistics NZ accept responsibility for any such delay.

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