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A new approach to measuring whānau well-being

Taking the perspective that whānau well-being is best defined by the individuals affected by it, Te Kupenga asks Māori for their view of how well their whānau is doing.

While whānau well-being is a complex concept, at its simplest it is having a happy and healthy whānau. Whānau well-being, or whānau ora, is based on the central role of Māori cultural values (Lawson-Te Aho, 2010). In exploring and defining whānau ora, Lawson-Te Aho states:

  The mental, emotional, physical and spiritual state is shaped, maintained and contained in context of whānau relationships. Therefore, when an individual is not well, a whānau is not well. Conversely when a whānau is not well, individuals are adversely impacted. Whānau ora is a state of collective wellbeing that is integrated, indivisible, interconnected and whole. 
Each whānau attaches different meanings to whānau well-being than do other whānau, and each may adjust what it means to them over time. Therefore whānau well-being is best shaped and given meaning by those most affected by it (Whānau Ora Taskforce, 2009).

Family well-being has previously been measured in a New Zealand context using a group of objective measures. The Family and Whānau Wellbeing Project (FWWP) used census data to provide an understanding of family well-being in New Zealand and how it has changed over time (Milligan, Fabian, Coope, & Errington, 2006). It used a range of measures across topic areas such as education, employment, income, and housing. Kiro, von Randow, and Sporle (2010) used a similar approach in looking at the changes in well-being for Māori households in New Zealand.

The usual indicators of well-being, such as household incomes, employment, or education level, do not provide a full picture of whānau outcomes. Māori require specific measures that are attuned to Māori realities and world views (Durie, 2006). For example, education might include measures that relate to the use and knowledge of Māori language.

Marsden (1981, cited in Te Aho-Lawson, 2010; p41) contends that:

  The route to Māoritanga through abstract interpretation is a dead end. The way can only lie through the passionate, subjective approach… Māoritanga is a thing of the heart rather than the head … analysis is necessary only to make explicit what Māori understands implicitly in daily living, feeling, acting and deciding … from within the culture. 

Modern researchers are beginning to recommend ways for statistical agencies to measure subjective well-being alongside objective measures. For example, the report by the Stiglitz Commission (Stiglitz, Fen, & Fitoussi, 2009) noted that:

  Research has found that it is possible to collect meaningful and reliable data on subjective as well as objective well-being… Quantitative measures of these subjective aspects hold the promise of delivering not just a good measure of quality of life per se, but also a better understanding of its determinants. 
These recommendations are based on the idea that an individual’s well-being can be best judged by them (Noll, 1997). What an individual thinks or feels about their life will influence their well-being and that of those close to them. Well-being does not come in a one-size-fits-all formula. Individual values and perceptions differ, and different individuals may evaluate similar living conditions quite differently (Milligan, Fabian, Coope, & Errington, 2006).

A single measure cannot adequately cover whānau well-being (Durie, 2006). We do not expect that a subjective whānau well-being measure will provide a complete picture of whānau well-being for Māori. But a combination of existing measures and new Māori-specific measures from Te Kupenga will enrich the picture.

An individual’s view can be interpreted as a whānau view

Māori have a concept of self-collective that is consistent with a Māori-centred approach. This concept underpins several well-known whakatauki, or tribal sayings, like ‘Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari taki mano, no aku tūpuna’ (My success is not mine alone, but is both mine and my ancestors’) and ‘Ko au ko te awa, ko te awa ko au’ (I am the river, and the river is me).

This concept suggests the individual is not just an individual, but is in fact the whānau. From this cultural perspective, the individual view can be also interpreted as the collective view. We acknowledge that the Te Kupenga approach to measuring whānau well-being does not represent the entire collective’s view. However, the individual view can be interpreted as a whānau view.

How well do Māori think their whānau is doing?

Te Kupenga will ask respondents to rate how their whānau is doing on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is ‘extremely badly’ and 10 is ‘extremely well’. The average (mean) response from field test respondents was 7.4. Overall, three-quarters of respondents rated their whānau between 7 and 10.

Figure 6

Graph, Rating of how whānau is doing.

When asked whether things were currently getting better or worse for their whānau, 60 percent of field test respondents said they were staying the same. Less than 10 percent said it was getting worse.

What distinguishes groups with low well-being from those with high well-being?

As is the case with the overall life satisfaction measure, most policy interest is in the groups reporting low well-being. Te Kupenga data will allow us to look at what distinguishes the low well-being group from those with high well-being. This includes looking at Māori-specific factors such as Māori cultural knowledge and practice.

Our field test data shows an example: life stage. Middle-aged (30–54 years) field test respondents reported a higher mean rating of how their whānau is doing than young (15–29 years) and older (55+) respondents. Most surveys find that middle-aged people have the lowest levels of individual overall life satisfaction (Statistics NZ, 2011). We are interested in exploring this further using the complete Te Kupenga data.

Figure 7

Graph, Mean rating of how whānau is doing, by life stage.

How well do whānau get along with each other?

When field test respondents were asked how their whānau got along with each other, 80 percent said ‘very well’ or ‘well’. A further 15 percent selected the midpoint of ‘neither well nor badly’.

Figure 8

Graph, Rating of how well whānau get along with each other.

There is a strong relationship between how well field test respondents said their whānau get along with each other and how well they said their whānau was doing. Those who said their whānau got along ‘very well’ or ‘well’ reported a higher mean rating of their whānau doing well than those who said their whānau got along badly or very badly. While the field test was only a small sample, it shows the kind of analysis we will be able to do with the Te Kupenga data.

Figure 9

Graph, Mean rating of how whānau is doing, by rating of how well whānau get along with each other.

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