Statistics New Zealand has released wellbeing data from the 2021 General Social Survey (GSS).

The impacts of COVID-19 on our social fabric are evident with decreased trust, mental wellbeing, housing affordability, and health outcomes, and increased loneliness. The consequences of increased inequity for some population groups can be seen across many wellbeing measures.

Mental wellbeing declined across most age groups, with 28.2 percent reporting poor mental wellbeing (up from 22.3 percent). Sexual minorities and those who are LGBT+ were more likely to experience poor mental health. There was also a decrease in the number of people who felt it was easy or very easy to be themselves (down 3.8 percentage points to 80 percent). 

People reported higher levels of tolerance, with more people reporting comfort with a new neighbour who was different from them in some way. In particular, acceptance of mental illness increased with more people (from 54.8 percent to 57.9 percent) saying they were comfortable to live next to someone with a mental illness. However, people were also more likely to have experienced discrimination (20.9 percent, up from 17.4). Those who were more likely to experience discrimination were sexual minorities (38 percent), working aged disabled people (34.9 percent), and Māori (29.5 percent).

Source: Statistics New Zealand

Understandably, given containment measures for COVID-19 over the GSS period, face-to-face contact with family increased from 2018 to 2021 (from 60.2 percent to 63.3 percent), while face-to-face contact with friends decreased (73.7 percent to 69.6 percent). However, overall more people said they’d felt lonely in the previous four weeks. Sole parents were more likely to feel lonely at least a little of the time compared to the total population (55.7 percent vs 43.4 percent).

There was a decrease in the number of people who rated their health as very good or excellent, from 55.3 percent in 2018 to 50.9 percent in 2021. Household income was a factor here – people with household incomes of $30,000 or less were far more likely to report fair or poor health. 

Housing affordability remained unchanged in 2021, with the same mean rating of 6.5. Renters were more likely to find their housing unaffordable (6.1) than those who owned their home (6.7). People living in their own home were twice as likely as renters to report good outcomes in health, felt less loneliness, and had enough money to meet everyday needs (24 percent vs 12 percent). Housing conditions improved overall, with 49.1 percent reporting their home was never colder than they would like, up from 45.4 percent in 2018.

While overall life satisfaction remains moderately high with a mean rating of 7.7, the same rating as in 2018, this is not the case for everyone. Life satisfaction was considerably lower for some groups, including:

  • Working aged disabled people (6.4)
  • Sole parents of dependent children (6.6)
  • Unemployed people (6.7)
  • People with a household income of less than $30,000 (7.1)
  • Sexual minorities (7.2) and LGBT+ people (7.1)
  • Māori (7.3).

It’s not all dark news though. Proficiency in te reo Māori universally increased from 2018:

  • 22.9 percent of Māori had te reo Māori as one of their first languages, up from 17.3 percent
  • The proportion of people able to speak more than a few words or phrases was 23.6 percent, up from 20 percent, with Pacific peoples reporting the strongest growth in fluency (45.3 percent up from 29.4 percent).

Support for te reo Māori use also increased, with over half of the people supporting te reo Māori being a core subject in primary schools, and being included in signage. People also agreed that the government should encourage and support the use of te reo Māori in everyday situations.

There were a number of new measures in the 2021 GSS, including:

  • Optimism for the future – How satisfied people expect to be with their life in five years’ time. Overall, people expect to feel more satisfied in the future than they currently do (mean rating 8.2), although optimism for the future decreases with age
  • Sense of control – How in control of their lives people feel they are. The baseline rating for this new wellbeing measure is 7.5. People on lower incomes, disabled people, and sexual minorities were all much less likely to feel in control of their lives
  • Positive and negative affect balance – How happy and how anxious a person was the previous day. The majority of people reported being more happy than anxious the previous day (82.1 percent), with 10.5 percent being more anxious, and 7.4 percent being neutral. Women were more likely than men to be more anxious than happy the previous day

NB: Data collection for the 2021 GSS began on 1 April 2021, a year after the first COVID-19 lockdown, and finished early, on 17 August 2021, due to the first community outbreak of the Delta variant. The 2021 GSS has a reduced sample size of 3,484 person responses, compared with approximately 8,000-8,500 for a normal 12-month collection. The resulting data is of good quality and representative of the total population. However the change in reference period and reduction in sample size place some limitations on its use, particularly for disaggregation.