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New Zealand General Social Survey: 2008
Embargoed until 10:45am  –  29 October 2009
Technical notes

Background to the survey

The New Zealand General Social Survey (NZGSS) is a multidimensional, biennial survey that provides data not available from other sources on social and economic outcomes of New Zealanders aged 15 years and over.

The survey provides the ability to look at information on different outcomes for the same person at a specific time. The survey also gives new information about how people think they are faring, which complements other objective information about their situation, such as employment status, income, and material standard of living.

The NZGSS also enables new and emerging topics to be investigated in a timely and cost-effective manner, as modules can be adapted and added to collect new information.

General Social Surveys and surveys of a similar nature are a regular feature of statistical programmes in a number of countries including, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Statistics Canada undertook their first GSS in 1985 and the Australian Bureau of Statistics started theirs in 2002. The data collected in the NZGSS is similar to GSS data collected in other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Where international comparisons are made, data from the NZGSS is broadly comparable with data from other countries although some questions, scales, or survey populations may vary between countries.

The NZGSS is set to repeat every two years, which provides a base for measuring changes in outcomes over time and across population groups (using both self-assessed and objective measures). It also allows for timely analysis of the impacts of events on social and economic outcomes (for example, an economic recession).

The NZGSS 2008 was in the field from April 2008 to March 2009 and the second iteration of the survey will be in the field from April 2010 to March 2011.

Survey content

The NZGSS is made up of two questionnaires: the household questionnaire and the personal questionnaire.

One individual in the household completes the household questionnaire, which collects information about all the residents in the household (eg family relationships and household income). If you are interested in finding out more about the household questionnaire, please refer to the New Zealand General Social Survey Data Dictionary on the Statistics New Zealand website:

One individual in the household aged 15 years or over answers the personal questionnaire. That individual is randomly selected from within the eligible members of the household (a computer-generated random selection). The personal questionnaire consists of these components:

  • paid work 
  • economic standard of living
  • health
  • knowledge and skills
  • environment
  • safety and security
  • culture and identity
  • housing
  • leisure and recreation
  • social connectedness
  • human rights
  • overall life satisfaction.

Questions in the economic standard of living module were only asked of those respondents aged 18 years and over.

Survey population

The target population for the NZGSS is the usually resident population aged 15 years and over in private dwellings in the North Island, South Island, or Waiheke Island of New Zealand.

The target population includes:

  • New Zealand usual residents temporarily overseas
  • New Zealand usual residents temporarily staying elsewhere in New Zealand (including other permanent and temporary private dwellings, institutions, and non-private dwellings; and people who have no fixed abode, but were found in private dwellings on the household enumeration date)
  • people in the New Zealand armed forces if they reside in a private dwelling
  • young adults at boarding schools (young adults who fall into this category are not surveyed in the personal questionnaire, but are included as members of the household in the household questionnaire).

The target population excludes:

  • overseas visitors and international students who expect to be resident in New Zealand for less than 12 months
  • people living in non-private dwellings such as hotels, motels, boarding houses, hostels, and homes for the elderly
  • patients in hospitals, or residents of psychiatric and penal institutions
  • people living on offshore islands (excluding Waiheke Island)
  • members of the non-New Zealand armed forces and their dependents
  • non-New Zealand diplomats or diplomatic staff members and their dependents
  • New Zealand usual residents temporarily overseas who don't return within the survey period
  • New Zealand usual residents temporarily staying elsewhere in New Zealand (including other permanent and temporary private dwellings, institutions, and non-private dwellings; and people who have no fixed abode, but stay at private dwellings) who don't return within the survey period
  • New Zealand usual residents who live in remote areas that are costly or difficult to access.

Data collection

The data collection period took place over a twelve-month period and was run from April 2008 to March 2009.

Interviews were conducted using computer-assisted personal interviews (CAPI) lasting an average of 45 minutes.

The NZGSS personal questionnaire was answered by 8,721 individuals. Dwellings were selected at random using a multistage sample design and the NZGSS provides estimates at a national level.

The target response rate for the NZGSS was 80 percent. The achieved response rate was 83 percent. The response rate was calculated by dividing the weighted percentage of eligible individuals who responded by the estimated total number of eligible individuals.

Statistical methodology


The survey has two sets of weights attached, one for the household and one for the person. The weights are used for answering different types of questions. The household weight is used to describe the attributes of a household (eg how many households have dependent children who live outside that household). The person weight is used to describe the attributes of a person (eg how many people are ‘very satisfied’ with their life satisfaction).

Each of these weights is calculated over three stages. An initial selection weight is selected, then it is adjusted for non-response, and then for calibration. The population totals for the NZGSS are annual resident population estimates.

Reliability of survey estimates

Two types of error are possible in estimates based on a sample survey: sampling error and non-sampling error. Sampling error can be measured and quantifies the variability that occurs by chance because a sample rather than an entire population is surveyed. Non-sampling errors are all errors that are not sampling errors. These errors are not quantifiable and include unintentional mistakes by respondents, variation in the respondent's and interviewer's interpretation of the questions asked, and errors in the recording and coding of data. Statistics NZ endeavours to minimise the impact of these errors through the application of best survey practices and monitoring of known indicators (eg non-response).

Sampling errors have been estimated using a jackknife method, which is based on the variation between estimates, and based on taking 100 mutually exclusive subsamples from the whole sample. Sampling errors are quoted at the 95 percent confidence level. For example, if the estimated total number of people is 1,575,200, and the estimate is subject to a sampling error of plus or minus 35,500 or 2.3 percent (measured at the 95 percent confidence level), that shows that there is a 95 percent chance that the true total number of people lies between 1,539,700 and 1,610,700.

Smaller estimates, such as the total number of people unemployed (11,400), are subject to larger relative sampling errors than larger estimates. This estimate is subject to a sampling error of plus or minus 3,200 or 27.9 percent (measured at the 95 percent confidence level).

High level analysis of the Asian and Pacific groupings indicated that the samples were representative of the population. However, conclusions about these and other groups with small population size can potentially be vulnerable to unmeasured differences between the survey participants and the population.

Generally, data in this Hot Off the Press have a relative sampling error of less than 50 percent. Any data with a relative sampling error of 50 percent or more has been flagged with an asterisk (*) in the tables.

Rounding and percentages

All percentages have been calculated from unrounded data and then rounded to a whole number, except in the ‘Tables’ section where they have been rounded to one decimal place. To improve the readability of the data, the calculation of percentages excludes residual categories such as ‘don't know’ and ‘refused’ in the population base from which percentages are calculated.

Imputation for item non-response

Occasionally, some question responses are not recorded and in these instances, imputation is sometimes used to ‘fill’ the gaps. Imputation is very selectively done to maintain the quality of the data, as this allows more questionnaire responses to be included in the final dataset. Imputation was not done for all questions, but only for some of the demographic variables: age, personal income, and labour force status questions. Very little imputation was required for the NZGSS (see the table below for a breakdown of the number of imputations).

Imputation was done using donor imputation, a hot-deck imputation method, which replaces missing values by data values from another record (a donor). This donor will be identified by matching the records on other (complete) matching variables and will be the one that most closely matches the record with missing values. ---PDF BREAK---

Number and Percentage of Imputed Records for the Personal Questionnaire
By type of imputation
Type of imputation Number of imputed records Percentage of imputation
Age 17 0.20
Income 306 3.51
Labour force status 38 0.44


An edit is when a respondent’s inconsistent answer is changed to reflect the correct answer based on information they have provided. In total, only 45 edits were made throughout the survey. Edits were made only where there was clear information provided elsewhere by the respondent to inform a change.

Selected definitions and item notes

Adequate money to meet everyday needs

Respondents were asked: "Think about how well you and your partner’s combined income meets your everyday needs for such things as accommodation, food, clothing, and other necessities. Would you say you have not enough money, just enough money, enough money, or more than enough money?"

Child in a family nucleus

A usual resident with at least one parent and no partner or child(ren) of their own living in the same household. They can be of any age.

Dependent child

A child in a family nucleus who is aged under 18 years and who is not employed full time.

Dependent child outside of the household

A dependent child of the respondent or the respondent’s partner, who does not live in the same household as them.


Respondents were asked: "In the last 12 months, have you been treated unfairly or had something nasty done to you because of the group you belong to or seem to belong to?"


Ethnicity is the ethnic group or groups that people identify with or feel they belong to. Thus, ethnicity is self-perceived and people can belong to more than one ethnic group. Ethnicity is a measure of cultural affiliation, as opposed to race, ancestry, nationality, or citizenship.

The Hot Off the Press contains total response ethnicity data, but single and combination ethnicity data can be acquired from the NZGSS dataset.

Total responses counts number of responses, not the number of people. People with responses that fall into more than one group are counted once in each ethnic group at level one of the standard ethnicity classification. A person may specify more than one ethnicity; therefore, the sum of individual cells in a table may add to more than the total population. For example, people of Samoan, Tongan, and German ethnicities would be counted (when outputting at the highest level of the classification) once in the Pacific ethnic group and once in the European group.

Single and combination responses cover both people who reported only one ethnic group and people with combination ethnic groups. People are counted just once in the ethnic group that applies to them, according to the ethnic group or combination of ethnic groups they have reported. For example, for outputs of ethnic group, ethnic groups may include European/Māori, or Māori/Pacific. This means that the total population will be equal to the usual subject population for that variable, as individuals are counted once only.

The survey received few New Zealander responses. These are categorised in the 'Other Ethnicity' group, which makes up 2 percent of the sample.

Family (or family nucleus)

A couple, with or without child(ren), or one parent and their child(ren), all of whom have residence together in the same household. The children do not have partners or children of their own living in the household.


A household is either one person who usually resides alone, or two or more people who usually reside together and share facilities (such as eating facilities, cooking facilities, bathroom and toilet facilities, and a living area) in a private dwelling.

Household income

Total household income is derived by aggregating the total personal income of all members of the household. Household income is collected for each household, but it can be given via proxy. Responses via proxy may be an additional source or error and may cause slight deviation from the actual total household income of the household. The household income data from the NZGSS is broadly comparable with the Household Economic Survey (HES).

Major problems with house or neighbourhood

Respondents were asked: "First think about any major problems you have with this house/flat. Looking at the showcard, are any of these things major problems for you? Choose as many as you need:

  • too expensive
  • too small
  • in poor condition
  • too cold or difficult to heat/keep warm
  • damp
  • poor access
  • insects, mice, or other pests
  • none of the above."

Respondents were then asked: "Next, think about any major problems you have with the street or neighbourhood. Looking at the showcard, are any of these things major problems for you? Choose as many as you need:

  • unsafe
  • too far from work
  • too far from other thing
  • noise or vibration from traffic fumes, industry, or other smoke (including trains and aeroplanes)
  • air pollutants such as traffic fumes, industrial emissions, and wood smoke
  • none of the above."

Non-private dwelling

A dwelling providing short or long-term communal or transitory accommodation. Non-private dwellings are usually available to the public by virtue of employment, study, special need, leisure requirements, or recreation.

Non-private dwellings include:

  • hotels and motels
  • hospitals, camps, institutional complexes, communal staff quarters, and backpackers
  • dwellings that would usually be classified as occupied private dwellings, but which have five or more boarders, lodgers, or guests; for example, homestays, farmstays, and bed and breakfasts (B&Bs).

Personal income

Total personal income received is collected from individuals and it represents the before-tax income of the respondent in the last 12 months from the date of being surveyed. Total personal income is collected as an income range rather than an actual dollar income.

Social marital status

Social marital status looks at whether people are partnered or non-partnered. Social marital status covers people who are in consensual unions, people who are legally married, and people who do not fall into those categories who may be partnered or non-partnered.

Support in a time of crisis

Respondents were asked: "Thinking just about people who you know who don’t live you, is there anyone who you could ask for help with these kinds of things?" Examples of types of support in a time of crisis are:

  • helping out when you have a serious illness or injury
  • helping maintain family responsibilities
  • providing emotional support and a place to stay.

This excludes help from those who live with the respondents or help from organisations/government.

Tenure of household

Tenure of household refers to the nature of the occupancy of a household in a private dwelling, at the time of the survey. Owner-occupied dwellings include dwellings owned or partly owned (with or without a mortgage), and dwellings held in a family trust. It does not refer to the tenure of the land on which the dwelling is situated.

Unpaid work

Respondents were asked: "Apart from the voluntary work that you told me about earlier, in the last four weeks did you give any help that you did not get paid for, to people who don’t live with you?" Some examples given of help are:

  • helping someone move
  • driving places or lending transport
  • work around the house such as cooking, cleaning, or gardening
  • home repairs or car maintenance
  • childcare or childminding
  • caring for someone who is ill, disabled, or elderly
  • tutoring."

These activities are not done for or through an organisation or group.

The NZGSS definition of unpaid work differs from the one used in the Time Use Survey. The NZGSS only collects unpaid work done outside of the household, but the Time Use Survey collects unpaid work both within and outside the household.

Voluntary work

Respondents were asked: "In the last four weeks, did you do any voluntary work for a group or organisation?" Voluntary work covers activities that are carried out for people living outside the respondent's own household, which is done for or through an organisation or group.

The NZGSS definition of voluntary work differs slightly from the definitions used in the Time Use Survey and in the New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings. The Time Use Survey defines it as: ‘Unpaid work that is carried out for people living outside the respondent's own household and which is done for or through an organisation or group’. It does not use the word ‘voluntary’ in the definition.

The census definition is: ‘Other help or voluntary work for or through any organisation, group, or marae’.

How to access NZGSS data

This Hot Off the Press represents only part of the data available from the NZGSS. More data can be accessed from the Statistics NZ website or from our Information Centre:

  • Table Builder is a web tool that enables you to build your own tables of data from datasets. The NZGSS dataset includes information on the number of households that have dependent children living outside of the household and is available at

    More tables will be available on the website in 2010.

  • NZGSS Confidentialised Unit Record File (CURF) – the NZGSS CURF provides those with an approved research application access to unit record level microdata. The New Zealand General Social Survey Data Dictionary details what is available in the CURF and is available at: Applications forms are also available on our website. Visit and enter ‘CURF’ into 'Quick search'.
  • Customized Data Requests – for data customized to your needs, phone our Information Centre on 0508 525 525 toll-free or email Note that there may be a charge for a customised request
Statistics NZ will publish analytical reports using the NZGSS data over the next year. If you would like to be part of the NZGSS Data Users Group, please email


Information obtained from Statistics NZ may be freely used, reproduced, or quoted unless otherwise specified. In all cases Statistics NZ must be acknowledged as the source.


While care has been used in processing, analysing and extracting information, Statistics NZ gives no warranty that the information supplied is free from error. Statistics NZ shall not be liable for any loss suffered through the use, directly or indirectly, of any information, product or service.


Timed statistical releases are delivered using postal and electronic services provided by third parties. Delivery of these releases may be delayed by circumstances outside the control of Statistics NZ. Statistics NZ accepts no responsibility for any such delays.

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