Understanding New Zealand: Demographics of Pacific Islanders

What is already known about Pacific Islander New Zealanders is that they fall inbetween Europeans and Asians in terms of how established they are in the country, and that on many sociodemographic measurements they are like Maoris (who are also Pacific Islanders in a manner of speaking).

Indeed, Pacific Islanders tend to live in the same kind of areas as Maoris, but unlike Maoris they seldom share a neighbourhood with Kiwis of European descent. The correlation between being a Pacific Islander and being Maori was 0.05, and because these statistics are calculated on the basis of which electorate a person lives in, this tells us that Pacific Islanders and Maoris often share the same neighbourhoods.

There was a very strong negative correlation of -0.80 between being a Pacific Islander and being a Kiwi of European descent, which is reflective of how seldom the two ethnicities share a neighbourhood. For one thing, the South Island has a large number of Kiwis of European descent and very few Pacific Islanders, and for another, many Pacific Islanders move to Auckland specifically.

Indeed, the correlation between being a Pacific Islander and living on the South Island was -0.29, which was significantly negative, but probably not as much so as most have expected. Pacific Islanders have been in New Zealand long enough to become established, and in practical terms this means growing up here and feeling free to move anywhere in the country to seek work or study opportunities.

The correlation between being a Pacific Islander and median personal income was -0.29. This was significantly negative, but not as strong as the corresponding correlation with being Maori (-0.48). Also, the correlation between being a Pacific Islander and turnout rate in 2014 was -0.44, compared to the corresponding -0.75 for being Maori and turnout rate in 2014.

Applying the General Disenfranchisement Rule to the correlations above, we can surmise that Pacific Islanders are generally doing better than Maoris by most demographic measures.

The majority of this difference can be explained by the fact that, although immigration restrictions towards Pacific Islanders are understandably lax, the average person who gets it together enough to become an immigrant in the first place is usually a cut above what is otherwise average for their demographic.

Perhaps the profoundest illustration of this is the correlation between being a Pacific Islander and being a regular smoker – this was only 0.14, compared to 0.92 for being Maori and being a regular smoker.

Also, Pacific Islanders didn’t have quite as strong of a male death bias as Maoris. The correlation between being a Pacific Islander and being female was 0.16, which was not significant.

Perhaps the largest statistical difference between Pacific Islanders and Maoris when it comes to measures of well-being is that, although the average Pacific Islander income is greater than that of the average Maori, it is so by a much smaller margin in the medium income bands than in the lower ones.

Consequently, there are few Pacific Islanders who are desperately broke. For instance, the correlation between being a Pacific Islander and being in the $10-15K income bracket was negative, at -0.16.

In fact, the correlation between being a Pacific Islander and being in the $10-15K income bracket was even more negative than the correlation between being a Kiwi of European descent and being in this income bracket.

Again, this is probably a result of the fact that the human capital of the average immigrant usually has to be above a certain minimum level for immigration to even be possible, and because Pacific Island immigration is fairly recent, they have not had the time to sink into the true underclass to the degree that Maoris and Kiwis of European descent have.

Being a Pacific Islander, however, was significantly negatively correlated with being in every income bracket above $50K. This tells us that the distribution of incomes within the Pacific Islander population is nowhere near as wide as the distribution of incomes within the Maori population.

The only occupation that had a significant positive correlation with being a Pacific Islander were machinery operators and drivers (0.31). Related to this is the fact that the only industry with a significant positive correlation with being a Pacific Islander was transport, postal and warehousing (0.50).

The profoundest difference between the Pacific Islander and the Maori populations is, of course, the correlations with being born overseas. With being Maori this is obviously very strong, at -0.67, but with being a Pacific Islander the positive correlation is only 0.38.

This tells us that, although the perception is of the Pacific Islander community in New Zealand as an immigrant one, they are much better established here than many realise.

They were, however, the least likely of any ethnic group to live on freehold land, although only just. The correlation between being a Pacific Islander and living on freehold land was -0.56, even more strongly negative than for Maoris. This is probably a consequence of fewer Pacific Islanders having inherited land from parents who died in New Zealand.

Another strong difference between Pacific Islanders and Maoris is that Pacific Islanders are very, very unlikely to be in part-time work – the correlation between the two was -0.82. The reason for this is that, even though the average Pacific Islander in New Zealand is older than the average Maori, their relatively recent immigration means that they comprise a smaller proportion of the old people who themselves comprise the bulk of the part-time workforce.

Statistically, this apparent paradox can be seen in two correlations: that between median age and being a Pacific Islander (-0.45, compared to -0.63 for Maoris), and that between being on the pension and being a Pacific Islander (-0.49, compared to -0.20 for Maoris).

This tells us that, much like income, the distribution of the ages of Pacific Islanders in New Zealand is much narrower than those of Maoris or Kiwis of European descent.

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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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