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How do we connect through club membership?

Purpose and background

This article looks at the club membership of New Zealand adults (people aged 15 years or older) to report on how belonging to clubs links us.

Clubs have many different reasons for existing. They may have a sporting focus, engage in social action, or members may share an interest – such as books or food.

How do we connect through club membership? is one of several articles that give a high-level view of the social networks of New Zealanders. The other articles look at: family functioning; contact with supportive family; contact with supportive friends; and connection to neighbourhood.

Club membership is important because being part of a club creates solidarity between people or groups of people who live in a community or have shared interests. It lets us feel part of a group and provides opportunities for members to exchange information and resources, and work together to find solutions to common problems. By participating in clubs people gain a voice through numbers.

Positive connections between diverse groups in society helps to minimise the risk of inter-group tension and hostility. By developing shared behaviours and values we build trust, and wider cooperation and sharing between individuals. Clubs are places where we develop friendships with people who share our interests. An individual may have access to a greater variety of resources or support when their club contains different people and groups.

Data in this article is from the New Zealand General Social Survey (NZGSS) 2014. It provides information about how many clubs New Zealanders belong to, the types of clubs they belong to, and the frequency and ways we stay connected through these clubs.

Majority of New Zealanders belong to a club

Almost two-thirds of New Zealand adults belonged to a group, club, or organisation (64 percent). Of this group, 6 percent belonged to four or more clubs, organisations, or groups.

Older people participate in clubs more than younger people

Older people (65+ years) had the highest participation (70 percent) in clubs of all the age groups. The 25- to 44-year-olds (prime working age group) had the lowest participation (60 percent). This difference is likely to relate to the amount of time people have available. Prime working-age people often have children and are therefore more starved for time, while older retired people have more time to spend on clubs.

For those who belonged to a club, people aged 65+ participated in more clubs than any other age group. Eleven percent of this group belonged to three clubs and 11 percent belonged to four or more clubs.

Club participation is reflected in the amount people spend on recreation and culture clubs. Results from the Household Economic Survey for the year ended June 2013 showed the average household spent about $530 on recreation and culture clubs.

Membership largest in sports clubs

Sports clubs or groups had the highest proportion of people belonging to them (28 percent) followed by religious organisations (21 percent). In contrast, only 2 percent of people belonged to a political group. 

Figure 1

Graph, Types of clubs people belong to, year ended March 2015.

There is no direct relationship between being a member of a club and participation in the activity associated with that club. For example the Active New Zealand Survey, from Sport New Zealand (2015), shows that in 2013/14, 74 percent of adults (2.5 million) took part in sport and recreation in any given week. Obviously, this was a much higher number of people than the number who were members of sports clubs and groups.

Membership in sports clubs decreases with age

Even though older people were more likely to participate in clubs overall than younger people, sports club participation decreased with age. Young adults (15 to 24 years) were more likely to participate in sports clubs (37 percent) than any other age group.

In contrast, participation in volunteer and neighbourhood clubs increased with age. For people aged 65+, 17 percent participated in volunteer clubs and 11 percent in neighbourhood clubs. This compared with 7 percent and 2 percent, respectively, for young adults. 

Figure 2

Graph, Participation in sports clubs, by age group, year ended March 2015.

Face-to-face contact is preferred by club members

New Zealanders have many ways to stay connected with other club members, including video conversations (eg Skype), phone calls or written communication (eg text messaging or letters). However, most club members use face-to-face contact (75 percent of people in clubs do this).

People need real, human, personal interactions for relationships and connections to develop (Statistics NZ, 2012). They have many ways to connect with each other but face-to-face contact is perhaps the gold standard of social contact (Nardi & Whittaker, 2002). 

Figure 3

Graph, Main ways people stay in contact with club members, year ended March 2015.

For all age groups, the main way people stay connected with other club members was to talk face-to-face. However, 13 percent of older people (65+) reported they stayed in contact through phone calls.

Entirely online participation is low

Modern technology allows people to share interests and hobbies online, which opens up wider geographical and social networks for club members.

When someone participated in a club entirely online they didn’t meet in person with other club members. An example of a club that operates entirely online is a chess club in which members participate in chess games through the internet, not at face-to-face meetings.

Only a small proportion of people participate in clubs, organisations, or groups entirely online (7 percent). 

Although older people were more likely to participate in a club than younger people, they were the age group least likely to participate in a club entirely online (3 percent). All other age groups had 8 percent of people participating in clubs entirely online.

Most club members have regular contact

Most New Zealanders who belonged to clubs had frequent contact with other club members. For most, this was at least once a week (59 percent), followed by a least once a fortnight (13 percent). Six percent of people who belonged to one or more clubs had no contact with other club members.

The majority (88 percent) of club members considered they had about the right amount of contact with other club members. However, just over 10 percent felt the level of contact was not enough.

For older people, 94 percent reported they had the right amount of contact with club members. This compared with 86 percent for young adults, 85 percent for people of prime working age, and 88 percent of people in the middle-age group.

Summary points

Club membership plays a key role in social integration into a community. Being part of a club builds trust and provides an outlet for shared values.

Older people (65+) were the group most integrated in club membership. They participated in more clubs than any other age group and thought they had the right amount of contact with club members. However, they were less likely to participate in sports clubs or participate in clubs online than younger people.

Face-to-face contact helps to build deeper connections between club members. Results from the NZGSS for 2014 showed most people preferred face-to-face contact to any other form of contact.

Being able to identify who is and who isn’t part of a club helps policy-makers determine the extent of social networks in a community.


Nardi, BA, & Whittaker, S (2002). The Place of Face-to-Face Communication in Distributed Work. In Hinds, PJ, & Kiesler, SB. Distributed Work. MIT Press.

Sport New Zealand (2015). Active New Zealand Survey. Available from

Statistics New Zealand (2012). Objectives of the 2014 New Zealand General Social Survey’s social networks and support rotating module. Available from

Statistics New Zealand (2015). The New Zealand General Social Survey, content overview, key indicators and objectives and programme of rotating supplements. Available on request from:


For more detailed data, see the Excel table in the 'Available files' box. If you have problems viewing the file, see opening files and PDFs.

Statistics New Zealand (2015). How do we connect through club membership? Retrieved from

ISBN 978-0-908350-06-3 (online)
Published 22 October 2015
Updated 17 December 2015 (tables added)

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