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How good are our family relationships?

Purpose and background

This article reports on how New Zealanders feel about their family relationships. By adding this information to official statistics, we can help policy developers be more effective in this area.

How good are our family relationships? is one of several articles that give high-level information to answer the question: What do the social networks of New Zealanders look like?

The other articles look at measures for: contact with supportive family; contact with supportive friends; connection to neighbourhood; and club membership.

Family is a building block of society. An important role of the family is to maintain and improve the well-being of its members by providing emotional support. Research shows that relationships within the family are associated with members’ well-being, particularly for children (Zubrick, Williams, Silburn, & Vimpani, 2000).

To better understand how well families function and relate to each other, we look beyond traditional measures such as composition and dynamics. Non-traditional measures include how family members get along with others in their household, how often they eat together, and how much quality time they spend with others.

Family relationships in New Zealand

At the 2013 Census, 18 percent of New Zealand families were single-parent families, 41 percent were families without children, and 41 percent families with child(ren). In comparison, 15 percent of Australia’s families in 2012 had one-parent (couples without children, and with child(ren), were 36 percent and 47 percent, respectively (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012)). In Canada, 16 percent of families in 2011 were lone-parent families (84 percent were couple families (Statistics Canada, 2011)). These figures show that the distributions by family type are similar in the three countries.

A further family type classification is for those classified as ‘not in a family nucleus’. This is someone living by themselves or someone who is flatting. In the 2013 Census, 24 percent of New Zealand households were one-person households.

Information now available from the New Zealand General Social Survey (NZGSS) 2014 provides more data about family relationships. To better understand how families function and relate, we analysed the data by family type.

Household and family interactions both fall under the concept of ‘family relationships’.

Most get along well with other household members and share meals

Almost half (49 percent) of New Zealanders not living alone felt they got on extremely well with other household members. Just under 5 percent gave a low rating (between 0 and 6 on a scale of 0 to 10) when asked how well they got on with their household members. Couple-without-children families had the highest proportion with a 10 rating (56 percent), while couple-with-children families had the lowest proportion (45 percent). One-parent-with-children families had the second-lowest proportion (46 percent) with a 10 rating.

Figure 1
Graph, getting along with household members, by self-rated measure, April 2014–March 2015.

Eating meals together is a non-traditional measure of family relationship, which indicates the time spent with household members. The more meals eaten together, the more likely that the family relationship is good (Utter, Denny, Grant, Robinson, Ameratunga, & Fleming, 2011). In 2014, 39 percent of New Zealanders ate more than seven meals each week with members of their household, an average of at least one meal a day.

Couple-without-children families had the highest proportion (59 percent) of families sharing more than seven meals weekly, while couple-with-children and one-parent-with-children families had lower proportions – 31 percent and 32 percent, respectively.

Figure 2
Graph, number of meals eaten with household members in past seven days, by family type, April 2014–March 2015.

Two-thirds spend enough quality time with their partners

Two-thirds (66 percent) of New Zealanders who lived with a spouse or partner reported they had about the right amount of quality time with them. This fell to 57 percent for people with a partner or spouse who lived in a different household.

This means that almost 1 in 3 people (31 percent) who lived with their spouse or partner, and 2 in 5 (40 percent) of those who lived apart from their spouse or partner, felt they didn’t spend enough quality time with them.

Figure 3
Graph, quality time spent with spouse or partner, by living arrangement, April 2014–March 2015.

The proportion of New Zealanders who felt they spent about the right amount of quality time with any of their children who lived with them was 65 percent. One-third (31 percent) felt they didn’t have enough quality time with children. These proportions were the same for couple-with-children or one-parent-with-children families.

Figure 4
Graph, quality time spent with children, by family type, April 2014–March 2015.

Future work

Significant numbers of people say they are not spending enough quality time with their spouse or partner or children. This indicates a need for more research on who these people are, and why they are not spending enough quality time with family members. Quality time is one aspect of family functioning that contributes to well-being – for both adults and children.

In the NZGSS, the proportion of respondents who lived in the same household as their spouse or partner and who said they had enough quality time with them was higher than for those living in different households. This implies a stronger connection for those living together and possibly a higher level of frustration for those living apart. Identifying the characteristics of people who are living together, or apart, will be useful for understanding family resilience.

Also, generating information on family functioning will help develop programmes and services to alleviate negative future outcomes and deal with potential problems early in life.


Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012). Labour force status and other characteristics of families. Available from

Statistics Canada (2011). Portrait of families and living arrangements in Canada (see table 1). Available from

Utter, J, Denny S, Grant S, Robinson E, Ameratunga S, & Fleming T (2011). Eating together at mealtimes: The role of family meals in the health and wellbeing of young people in New Zealand. Wellington: Families Commission.

Zubrick, SR, Williams, SS, Silburn, SR & Vimpani, G (2000). Indicators of social and family functioning. Canberra: Department of Family & Community Services.


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 good are our family relationships? Retrieved from

ISBN 978-0-478-42998-5 (online)
Published: 20 August 2015
Updated 17 December 2015 (tables added)

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