Understanding New Zealand: Wealth and Poverty


This is the one correlation everyone knows. In fact, this might reflect the single most fundamental division in politics: the have-nots trying to get and the haves trying to keep. Kids at primary school figure out that rich kids are more likely to be conservative than poor ones, and nothing changes at adult level. So this article looks at correlates with Net Personal Income.

A vote for National has a moderate 0.53 correlation with Net Personal Income, whereas a vote for Labour is -0.51. These two are probably of the same magnitude because they reflect mainstream, everyday people rationally voting for what suits their economic interests (the rich for less sharing, the poor for more sharing).

Perhaps the most interesting is that the correlation between voting Conservative and Net Personal Income is an insignificant 0.06. The Conservative Party may have had a wealthy backer splashing the cash, but the sort of person who votes for them is much less big money than the average National Party voter. Possibly this reflects the degree to which religious fundamentalists were attracted by Craig’s righteous message – and religious fundamentalists are known for being uneducated and thus poor.

The correlation with ACT is 0.36, which is interesting because this is not as high as it is for National. This tells us that ACT voters are actually poorer than National voters – which goes against the stereotype of ACT being a party only for big business. They are, however, significantly more wealthy than average. This could reflect a voter base of young professionals who are doing well but lack the seniority for the really big money.

With voting New Zealand First the correlation with Net Personal Income is -0.59, which means that the average New Zealand First voter is even poorer than the average Labour one. This can be explained to a large degree by the fact that New Zealand First’s support base consists mostly of Maoris and of pensioners.

Voting for the Cannabis Party and Net Personal Income had a correlation of -0.40, which suggests that the average cannabis user, while hard done by, isn’t doing quite as bad as the average Labour or New Zealand First voter.

The correlation with voting for the Maori Party and Net Personal Income was -0.35. The fact that this is weaker than the correlation between being Maori and Net Personal Income (-0.48) suggests that the Maori Party attracts a relatively wealthy section of Maoridom.

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that people of European descent are significantly wealthier than the average Kiwi – this had a correlation of 0.35 with Net Personal Income. Some might be surprised by the fact that this is a higher correlation than that of being Asian with Net Personal Income, at 0.22. This might reflect the fact that, although Asian immigrants often come here with a considerable amount of capital, their children usually end up the same kind of pleb as the rest of us.

Maoris are also much poorer than Pacific Islanders, which might surprise some. The correlation between Net Personal Income and being Maori is -0.48, whereas for Pacific Islanders it is -0.29. This might reflect the fact that a relatively higher proportion of Islanders have immigrated to New Zealand for full time work, and therefore a relatively lower proportion of them are students, children or beneficiaries.

Another correlation that will surprise no-one is that between having a Master’s degree and Net Personal Income (0.67). This was almost as strong, in the other direction, as having no qualification and Net Personal Income (-0.68). That the correlation between having a Master’s degree and Net Personal Income is stronger than with either voting National or being white underlines the value of an advanced education in an advanced post-industrial economy like New Zealand.

There is also a correlation of 0.27 between Net Personal Income and no religion. This probably reflects the fact that the religious are less likely to become educated and therefore will have less opportunity to trade their labour for high amounts of money. The correlation with being Christian was an insignificant -0.07, probably reflecting the degree to which Christianity is mainstream. The correlation with being Buddhist was 0.32, probably reflecting that immigrants from Buddhist cultures to New Zealand historically tended to be well-educated.

A statistic that will depress some and enthuse others is that the correlation between Net Personal Income and voting in the 2014 General Election is 0.52, which reflects the degree to which the poor are disenfranchised by politics in New Zealand (this correlation cannot be explained by age alone).


This article is an excerpt from Understanding New Zealand, by Dan McGlashan, published by VJM Publishing in the winter of 2017.

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