Wellbeing Budget 2021

Our Recovery

Human capital: our people and skills

Human capital includes our skills, knowledge, and physical and mental health, which directly link to key elements of wellbeing, such as employment, income, housing, and social connections.

The Government's response to COVID-19 has been underpinned by a wellbeing approach - that the strongest economic response is a strong public health response. Investments to support people's wellbeing during the pandemic included measures to protect jobs and incomes, create new training opportunities, and support New Zealanders' physical and mental health.

In spite of the impacts of COVID-19, reported levels of life satisfaction remained high across 2020 and the beginning of 2021. Overall life satisfaction remained constant across the HLFS wellbeing supplements in the December 2020 quarter and March 2021 quarter, with 86 percent of New Zealanders reporting high satisfaction (7 or more out of 10).[1] Average reported life satisfaction was 8 out of 10 in the March 2021 quarter, the same as in the December 2020 quarter and slightly higher than the June and September 2020 quarters. Average levels of life satisfaction were similar across gender, ethnicity, and regions.

Overall life satisfaction tended to increase with job security. The March data showed 26 percent of those who thought there was an almost certain or high chance of losing their job or business in the next 12 months rated their life satisfaction poorly (0-6 out of 10), compared to 9.3 percent of those who thought there was almost no chance.

The responses to the HLFS wellbeing supplement show that some groups of New Zealanders reported lower levels of wellbeing across various dimensions, relative to the general population (Table 1).

Table 1 - Average scores for overall life satisfaction for selected demographics in the March 2021 quarter
Category Population group Average score for overall
life satisfaction (out of 10)
Total Total NZ 8.0
Sex Male 7.9
Female 8.0
Age 18-24 7.9
25-34 7.9
35-44 7.9
45-54 7.9
55-64 7.8
65-74 8.3
75+ 8.3
Ethnicity European 7.9
Māori 7.9
Pacific 7.9
Asian 7.9
Employment status Employed 8.0
Unemployed 7.2
Not in labour force due to injury, sickness or disability 6.5
Parent status Sole parent 7.3
Mother in two-parent family 8.1
Father in two-parent family 8.1

Source: Stats NZ Household Labour Force Survey wellbeing supplement, March 2021 quarter https://www.stats.govt.nz/information-releases/wellbeing-statistics-march-2021-quarter

People working in industries such as retail, trade and accommodation have been the most impacted by pandemic-related labour market disruption. This has included a disproportionate number of young people, Māori, Pacific people, and women, exacerbating pre-existing inequities in labour market outcomes. Between the March and September 2020 quarters, the number of women who were unemployed rose by 17,000, or 28 percent, to 77,000, compared to the number of men classed as unemployed, which rose by 11,000, or 18 percent, to 73,000.[2]

As New Zealand's economic recovery has accelerated, unemployment has reduced and some of these impacts have subsided. The unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent in the March 2021 quarter from 4.9 percent in the December 2020 quarter. The unemployment rate for women fell from 5.7 percent in the September 2020 quarter to 4.7 percent in the March 2021 quarter, and is now the same as the unemployment rate for men.

The underutilisation rate provides an important measure of labour market capacity. Underutilisation rose from 10.5 percent in the March quarter 2020 to 13.1 percent in the September quarter. It fell to 11.8 percent in the December 2020 quarter and has since risen slightly to 12.2 percent in the March 2021 quarter. Compared to the March quarter 2020, approximately 56,000 more New Zealanders were underutilised in the labour market in the March 2021 quarter. Of the 366,000 New Zealanders who were underutilised in the March 2021 quarter, 124,000 were those counted as underemployed - workers who have a job but are willing and available to work more hours. The increase in underemployment from the December 2020 quarter to the March 2021 quarter was driven mostly by an increase in underemployment for women (up 7,000), with little change for men.


  • [1]https://www.stats.govt.nz/information-releases/wellbeing-statistics-march-2021-quarter
  • [2]All HLFS figures are seasonally adjusted. https://www.stats.govt.nz/information-releases/labour-market-statistics-march-2021-quarter
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