Understanding New Zealand: Demographics of Labour Force Status

Here’s one correlation that won’t surprise anyone: the correlation between working full time and net personal income is a very strong 0.80. It is to no-one’s surprise that the people who do the bulk of the work earn the bulk of the income.

The correlation between being unemployed and net personal income is -0.54. That is not as strong as some might have thought, perhaps because the unemployment benefit draws a line under how poor it is possible to be under normal circumstances.

Contrary to what is arguably the biggest stereotype in New Zealand, the difference between Kiwis of European descent and Maoris in likelihood to work a full-time job is not that large. The correlation between working full-time and being of European descent was a significantly positive 0.29, but the correlation between working full-time and being Maori was not significant, at -0.22.

In fact, Maoris were more likely to be in full-time employment than the average Kiwi of Pacific Island descent. The correlation between being a Pacific Islander and being in full-time work was significantly negative at -0.29.

The big difference was in the rate of part-time employment among Kiwis of European descent. The correlation between working part-time and being of European descent was a very strong 0.83. This can mostly be explained with reference to the moderately strong correlation between working part-time and median age, which was 0.50.

In particular, there is a big cultural difference between Kiwis of European descent and Maoris when it comes to post-working life options. When a Paheka winds down from the peak of their career, they tend to take on part-time work; when a Maori winds down from the peak of their career, they tend to take on childcare duties for grandchildren or other family.

Pacific Islanders who immigrate to New Zealand generally do so to work, and the next generation that grows up in New Zealand does so with the unemployment rates that could be expected from the general level of disenfranchisement of that demographic. This explains why they there is an extremely strong negative correlation of -0.82 between being a Pacific Islander and working part-time.

Curiously, being of no religion had a stronger positive correlation with working full-time (0.40) than any of the 20 religious orientations in this study. The only religious traditions with the strongest positive correlations with working full-time were Judaism (0.28), Catholicism (0.22), Buddhism (0.13), Presbytarianism (0.09) and being a Baptist (0.01). All others were negative.

Another curiosity is that the correlation between working full-time and median age was 0.01, suggesting that working full-time is the default condition of a New Zealander.

The age bracket with the strongest positive correlation with working full-time was the 30 to 49 age bracket – this was 0.71. Interestingly, the correlation with working full-time was higher for the 20 to 29 age bracket (0.12) than for the 50 to 64 age bracket (0.00) – which puts paid to the myth of lazy youth.

The correlations with working part-time are strongest for the two oldest age brackets. With the 50 to 64 age bracket it was 0.59, and with the 65+ age bracket it was 0.49.

Another striking trend was that the better educated a person is, the more likely they are to work full-time.

Having no qualifications was the only educational level to have a significant negative correlation with working full-time – this was -0.37. For all of the people whose highest qualification was achieved at secondary school, there was no significant trend either way.

All groups of people with tertiary educations had significantly positive correlations with working full-time, the strongest being between working full-time and having an Honours degree (0.47).

Some industries were clearly more likely to employ full-time workers than others. The strongest significantly positive correlations with working full-time were with arts and recreation services (0.53), professional, scientific and technical services (0.52), financial and insurance services (0.48) and information media and telecommunications (0.44).

This probably reflects the fact that people working in these industries are high-value workers and these industries are paid well, and so there is an economic incentive for them to work as many hours as possible.

The strongest significantly positive correlations with working part-time were with agriculture, forestry and fishing (0.46), retail trade (0.38), construction (0.36) and rental, real estate and hiring services (0.35), usually for opposite reasons to those given in the above paragraph.

All of the current rhetoric about the pay gap can be dismissed with reference to one statistic: the correlation of 0.48 between working full-time and being male. There is also a significant positive correlation between working part-time and being male. Together this tells us that the majority of the paid labour performed in New Zealand is performed by men.

There is a correlation of 0.74 with being a regular tobacco smoker and being unemployed. This is very strong and hints at a number of things: being unemployed is boring, the same class of people that doesn’t work also smokes and many people who are unemployed are rendered so by psychological conditions that tobacco smoking might alleviate.

There is a significant positive correlation between being born in New Zealand and both working part-time (0.46) and being unemployed (0.26). This indicates the degree to which our immigration system prioritises letting in people who look like they have high long-term productive potential.

A significant positive correlation exists between both working full-time and taking a bus to work (0.39) and working part-time and biking to work (0.40). This reflects the fact that many more job oportunities are available in the big cities that also have bus networks, as opposed to the smaller centres in which it is more pleasant to cycle.

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This article is an excerpt from Understanding New Zealand, by Dan McGlashan, due to be published by VJM Publishing this winter.

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