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A new approach to measuring whānau

People define whānau in different ways, so Te Kupenga lets respondents decide who is included in their whānau.

Whānau are complex and diverse. There is little quantitative evidence about the structure of whānau in New Zealand and the social and economic outcomes of these whānau.

Cunningham, Stevenson, and Tassell (2005) are the pioneers of Māori-centred research on whānau using quantitative techniques. They used information from the study Best Outcomes for Māori: Te Hoe Nuku Roa to discuss family and whānau and to describe whānau. Te Kupenga was informed by Te Hoe Nuku Roe and the lessons from it.

More recently, Cram and Kennedy (2010) developed a report for the Ministry of Health that listed a variety of ways that whānau realities can be and are being measured. They did not focus on statistical techniques, but on qualitative approaches to gathering data about Māori collectives. This is useful for people interested in the broad range of ways that collectives might be measured.

However, improved statistical data is needed to support a wide range of information needs about whānau and whānau well-being (Statistics NZ, 2007).

Much of the data on families and whānau in New Zealand has come from censuses and is based on the household unit. For many people, the household defines the family. This is one way of looking at outcomes for families and whānau, particularly economic outcomes. It is also in line with international standard practice.

However, significant networks exist outside the immediate household. The exchange of social and economic resources between whānau members and members of different households can significantly affect the achievement of whānau well-being (McKenzie & Carter, 2010; United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, 2012).

Extended family networks can be complementary to (or replace) the public services offered by social policies. The existence of an extended family network and family members’ ability to provide care and support for one another is a key assumption of a great deal of family policy. It is important, therefore, to have an understanding of these networks.

How big are whānau?

Whānau come in many shapes and sizes, and individuals describe their whānau in different ways. Therefore, Te Kupenga lets individual Māori identify how many people are in their whānau.

Field test data shows wide diversity in the number of people that respondents considered to be in their whānau. Just under half of all respondents said their whānau consisted of less than 12 people. A small proportion of respondents stated they had a relatively large whānau. Ten percent said their whānau consisted of 50 or more people, while one respondent stated their whānau was 500 people.

Figure 1

Graph, Number of people included in whānau.

Who is included in whānau?

There is no common definition of whānau. Two models of whānau dominate the recent literature: whakapapa and kaupapa whānau (Lawson-Te Aho, 2010). Whakapapa whānau are connected through a common ancestor. Kaupapa whānau are connected to fulfil a common purpose or goal.

Māori want to be able to determine how whānau are identified and what the priorities are for their own development (Te Puni Kokiri, 2005, cited in Lawson-Te Aho, 2010). With this in mind, Te Kupenga adopts a model that considers both whakapapa and kaupapa whānau valid and leaves it to the individual to define their own whānau within four broad relationship categories.

Field test data shows that almost all respondents stated that their parents, partner, children, and brothers and sisters were part of their whānau. More than half of respondents stated that aunts and uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces, and in-laws were included in their whānau. Two-fifths of respondents included grandparents and/or grandchildren in their whānau.

Figure 2

Graph, People included in whānau, grouped by relationship.

We can adjust these categories to fit the whakapapa and kaupapa whānau model. The model in figure 3 shows the relationship between whakapapa and kaupapa whānau. Whakapapa whānau includes nuclear and extended family members. The distinguishing feature of kaupapa whānau is that it includes friends and others. But kaupapa whānau may include people with whakapapa links.

Figure 3
Te Kupenga model of whānau

Figure, Te Kupenga model of whānau.

Every respondent in the field test stated that their whānau included people with whakapapa links. A third said their whānau included only their nuclear family – their parents, partner, children, or brothers and sisters. Four-fifths said they define their whānau traditionally, through whakapapa only.

A fifth of respondents said their whānau also included friends or others (kaupapa-based). Of these respondents, over four-fifths said their whānau was mostly (or all) relatives. Therefore, less than five percent of all respondents had a whānau that was mostly friends.

Figure 4

Graph, Whānau types.

Does whānau differ by life stage?

Te Kupenga will show us how whānau differs for different groups of people. For example, research has shown that a person’s family structure changes over their life course (de Vaus, 2004).

Field test data shows that on average, older respondents (55 years and above) reported larger whānau than younger (15–29 years) and middle-aged (30–54 years) respondents. The median size of whānau for older respondents was 15 people, compared with 12 for middle-aged respondents and 10 for young respondents.

Middle-aged respondents were more likely than younger and older respondents to state they had a nuclear family only. This is not surprising, as this is the age where most would be raising children. Older respondents were more likely than younger respondents to say they had a kaupapa whānau.

Figure 5

Graph, Whānau type by life stage.

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