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Methodological section

Survey information

The New Zealand General Social Survey (NZGSS) provides information on the well-being of New Zealanders aged 15 years and over. It covers a wide range of social and economic outcomes and shows how people are faring. In particular, the survey provides a view of how well-being outcomes are distributed across different groups within the New Zealand population.

The NZGSS is repeated every two years and was first run in 2008. Data is collected over 12 months, from 1 April to 31 March. NZGSS 2010 went into the field in April 2010 and finished data collection in March 2011.

The NZGSS 2010 personal questionnaire was answered by 8,550 individuals.

Many of the questions in the NZGSS, including the question on major housing problems, are subjective measures of well-being. This means they are based on people’s perceptions of how they think they are faring. The survey also has questions that are objective, traditional measures about people’s situations, such as their labour force status and income level. The subjective well-being measures complement these traditional measures, and help inform understanding of what matters, why, and for whom in terms of overall well-being. The mix of subjective and objective questions is a unique feature of the NZGSS.


Descriptive data analysis has been used throughout the report, and is supported with targeted multivariate linear analysis to assist data interpretation.

Housing quality

The NZGSS 2010 question on housing problems asked respondents to think about any major problems they have with their house or flat and choose from a showcard as many problems as applied. The problems listed were:

  • It’s too small
  • It’s hard to get to from the street
  • It’s in poor condition
  • It’s damp
  • It’s too cold or difficult to heat/keep warm
  • There are pests, such as mice or insects
  • It’s too expensive
  • Other major problems
  • No major problems

The housing problems can also be analysed as ‘combination’ categories. Many of the combination problems cannot be analysed because the numbers are very small. The most common combination problem was cold/damp.

Life satisfaction

The NZGSS question on life satisfaction is a subjective measure of quality of life. It captures overall levels of well-being, in contrast to the question on housing problems, which is about one particular aspect of life.

The question on life satisfaction requires people to cognitively evaluate their life as a whole; that is, make an assessment of how well they believe their lives are going across all areas. People may do this assessment by making trade-offs between different areas of life, between the shorter and longer term, and by comparing themselves with other people, such as friends, family, neighbours, and colleagues.

Housing satisfaction

Housing satisfaction is a subjective measure of how the respondent has reported that they feel about their house or flat overall. Their satisfaction is reported on a five-point scale, from ‘very satisfied’ to ‘very dissatisfied’.

Housing satisfaction is a distinct measure from life satisfaction and from perceived housing quality. It is not covered in this report; however, it is included in the two related interactive NZGSS 2010 tables:

Household crowding

This report uses the self-assessed ‘house is too small’ measure from the NZGSS. A more objective measure, the Canadian National Occupancy Standard (CNOS), is also available from the survey. The CNOS is also used in the 2006 Census. It calculates the level of household crowding in New Zealand (from severe crowding to underuse of bedrooms) based on the number of bedrooms and the number, age, and sex of occupants in the household. The CNOS has been developed by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to help determine the number of bedrooms a dwelling should have to provide freedom from crowding.

The relationship between the objective and subjective crowding measures in the NZGSS was not analysed in this report. This analysis was considered a substantial topic requiring separate investigation.

Economic standard of living index (ELSI)

The NZGSS uses the shortened version of the economic living standard index produced by the Ministry of Social Development. It measures people's economic standard of living in terms of the material aspects of well-being reflected in a person’s consumption and personal possessions – their household durables, clothing, recreations, access to medical services, and so on (Jensen, Spittal, & Krishnan, 2005:1).

The ELSI only measures the standard of living of people aged 18 years and over.

Information from a set of questions is combined to produce a score between 0 and 31. This indicates whether a person is experiencing a very low standard of living at the one end, and a very high standard of living at the other end (Jensen et al, 2005:4). Scores are output using seven levels, which range from ‘severe hardship’ to ‘very good’. A score of 16 or less for an individual indicates some level of material hardship.

Table 5 shows the seven outputs, along with the scores, and the proportion and number of the New Zealand population aged 18 years and over at each material living standard level.
5. Proportion and number of people at each material living standard level

Table 5

Proportion and number of people at each material living standard level
Living standard level  Score  Percent  Number of people 
Severe hardship  0–8  117,000 
Significant hardship  9–12  129,000 
Some hardship  13–16  206,000 
Fairly comfortable  17–20  14  436,000 
Comfortable  21–24  23  743,000 
Good  25–28  35  1,139,000 
Very good  29–31  14  449,000 

Source: Statistics New Zealand

Three questions in the ELSI relate to the condition of people’s houses. These questions ask people whether they have heating available in all main rooms, whether they have stayed in bed longer to save on heating costs, and whether people have enough room for family to stay the night. It is an index, so the effect of these individual questions on the findings and the risk of measuring the same thing are minimal.

For more information about interpretation and output of ELSI scores see ELSI short form user manual.

Age life stages

Age is grouped to reflect broad ‘life stages’. The groupings are:

  • 15 to 24 years – young adults
  • 25 to 44 years – prime working age
  • 45 to 64 years – middle age
  • 65 years and over – older age.

These groupings are relatively diverse. For example, family formation varies in the young adults and prime working age groups. Renting is not necessarily a characteristic of prime working age, even though the findings show a significant number of people in this age group did rent their house.

Dwelling tenure

Dwelling tenure refers to the nature of the occupancy of a household in a private dwelling, at the time of the survey. The measure is based on the New Zealand Standard Classification of Tenure of Households 2008. The three categories at level 1 of that classification are combined into two: rented or owner-occupied.

Owner-occupied dwellings include dwellings owned or partly owned (without or with 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.

Family type

Family type is about family compositions within households. Measurement is based on level 1 of the New Zealand Classification of Family Types 1999. For this report, we used the three categories from the classification, along with a fourth category for people not in a family, to cover each person in the survey:

  • couples without child(ren): includes couples who don’t have children as well as couples whose children have left home
  • couples with child(ren): includes couples and their child(ren)
  • sole-parent with child(ren): includes one adult with child(ren)
  • not in a family: includes someone living by themselves or people who are flatting.


For this report, regional breakdowns presented are based on regional council areas. Data is collected in the NZGSS on all 16 regional council areas, although some of these council areas are too small to output robust data (for example, the West Coast). We focused on Auckland and Canterbury in this report because they are key interest regions in the areas of housing and population growth and change. Wellington was included for comparative purposes.

Rounding and percentages

All percentages have been calculated from weighted data and then rounded to a whole number. The numbers of people have also been rounded to the nearest 1,000 people.


To improve the accuracy of the NZGSS, the survey weights were reissued in 2012. The effect of this on most published estimates is not statistically significant. However, some estimates may vary from previously released data.

Data collection disruption due to Christchurch earthquake

After the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011, interviewers were unable to work in certain parts of the Canterbury area. This led to fewer completed cases for February and March in the Canterbury area. The weights used for the survey have controlled for the loss of cases.

The September 2010 earthquake in Christchurch did not affect data collection. 

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