Understanding New Zealand: City vs. Country

The division between city people and country people is one of the most telling in all of ethnography, and has been since the start of history. This is as true for New Zealand as it is for anywhere else. In this study, Dan McGlashan, author of Understanding New Zealand, looks at the statistical differences between people who live in the big cities (Auckland, Tauranga, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, referred to here as “Living Urban”) and people who live in the provinces.

This study defines “City” electorates as any belonging to the following list: Auckland Central, Christchurch Central, Christchurch East, Dunedin North, Dunedin South, East Coast Bays, Epsom, Hamilton East, Hamilton West, Helensville, Hutt South, Ilam, Kelston, Mana, Mangere, Manukau East, Manurewa, Maungakiekie, Mt Albert, Mt Roskill, New Lynn, North Shore, Northcote, Ohariu, Pakuranga, Port Hills, Rongotai, Tamaki, Tauranga, Upper Harbour, Wellington Central, Wigram and Tamaki Makaurau.

These electorates tell a story that seems paradoxical on the surface. City dwellers are wealthier than provincial New Zealanders (the correlation being Living Urban and Median Personal Income was 0.37), but they are disinclined to vote for the wealthy party, National (the correlation between Living Urban and voting National in 2017 was, at -0.01, almost perfectly uncorrelated).

Urban people like to vote for the ACT and Green parties more than any others. The correlation between Living Urban and voting ACT in 2017 was 0.37; for Living Urban and voting Green in 2017 it was 0.36. The main reason for this is that young and trendy people support these parties, and young and trendy people live in urban areas.

The strongest negative correlations with Living Urban and voting for a particular party in 2017 were for New Zealand First (-0.60), voting Ban 1080 (-0.52) and voting Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party (-0.40). These three could be said to be the truly rural parties.

The two major parties both spanned the rural-urban divide. As mentioned above, urban dwellers do not vote National any more than rural dwellers do, but the grip of the Labour Party on the urban electorates is overstated. The correlation between Living Urban and voting Labour in 2017 was not significant, at only 0.11.

On a racial basis, it’s immediately clear that most rural people are Kiwis of European descent and Maoris, whereas most Pacific Islanders and the vast majority of Asians live in an urban setting. The correlation between being a Kiwi of European descent and Living Urban was -0.28, and between being Maori and Living Urban it was -0.35. This tells us that rural New Zealand is still very much a bicultural affair.

The correlation between being a Pacific Islander and Living Urban was significantly positive, at 0.33, and for Asians the correlation was strong, at 0.60. The reason for this is primarily because these two groups comprise the most recent waves of immigrants, and immigrants tend to establish themselves in major centres first before moving to the provinces. Indeed, the correlation between Living Urban and being foreign-born was 0.61.

Further clues appear when we examine the correlations between living in a big city and age. The correlation between Living Urban and median age was -0.23, on the border of significance, which tells us that the average city dweller is somewhat younger than the average country dweller. However, there were negative correlations between Living Urban and being in either of the youngest two age brackets, between ages 0 and 14 in total.

There were moderately strong correlations between Living Urban and being in either the 20-29 age bracket (0.50) or the 30-49 age bracket (0.51). These are also the age brackets that correlate the most highly with working fulltime and with median personal income. The correlations between Living Urban and being in either of the 50-64 or 65+ age brackets are both significantly negative.

What this tells us is the age-old story of young adults moving to the city for the sake of jobs and wealth, and then moving back out into the provinces again when it’s time to retire or perhaps to raise a family. This pattern of human migration, from country to city and back again, goes all the way back to at least Babylon, so it’s not surprising to find statistical evidence of it in contemporary New Zealand.

Keeping with the theme of employment, we can see that having any of the university degrees is significantly correlated with Living Urban (Bachelor’s at 0.63, Honours at 0.56, Master’s at 0.62, doctorate at 0.48). As described elsewhere, the reason for this is because of the strong correlation between having a university degree and working full-time.

In short, all the capital is in the cities, therefore that’s where the full-time jobs are, therefore anyone wishing to save money (as young, educated people tend to do) must live in an urban area. Indeed, there is a positive correlation (although not a significant one) of 0.18 between Living Urban and working in a full-time job.

This explanation is reinforced if one looks at the correlations between working in capital-intensive professions and living in an urban environment. The correlation between Living Urban and working in a particular profession was 0.58 for professional, scientific and technical services, 0.59 for information media and telecommunications and 0.61 for financial and insurance services. Notably, it was -0.72 for agriculture, forestry and fishing, for obvious reasons.

There was a significant positive correlation between Living Urban and renting one’s house (0.30) and a significant negative one between Living Urban and living in a freehold house (-0.31). This ties in with the observation that people in big cities have a different attitude to wealth generation: they are likely to become educated and earn a large wage with heavy expenses, whereas rural people tend to consolidate and grow wealth by minimising expenses.

Indeed, while there was virtually no correlation (0.01) between Living Urban and being unemployed, there was a significant correlation (0.27) between Living Urban and working for a wage or salary. This also ties in with the aforementioned fact that the jobs on offer tend to be where the major accumulations of capital are.

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Dan McGlashan is the man with his finger on the statistical pulse of New Zealand. His magnum opus, Understanding New Zealand, is the complete demographic analysis of the Kiwi people.

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