Story: Ethnic inequalities

Page 6. Occupation and education

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Employment status

Inequalities in income are partly a reflection of involvement  in paid work and the different occupational status of the ethnic groups.

Māori and Pacific people are more likely to be unemployed than other groups. Among 15–29-year-olds in 2013 unemployment levels were 15.6% for Māori and 14.7% for Pacific people, compared with 10.2% for the whole population. Among people aged 30–64 both Māori and Pacific people were almost twice as likely to be unemployed as the whole population. Asians aged 30–64 were much less likely to be unemployed.


Māori and Pacific people

Both Māori and Pacific people came to New Zealand cities largely from jobs on the land or in fishing. Many Māori had been in the casual rural workforce, often working seasonally in jobs such as shearing. When they migrated to the city they often moved into industrial labouring jobs. The effects of this background were still visible in occupational patterns in 2013. Among the top white-collar occupations (managers and professionals) both Māori and Pacific people were markedly under-represented. While 20.2% of European workers were managers, 13.1% of Māori and 8.9% of Pacific people had that role. Māori and Pacific people were under-represented among professionals by a third (Māori) and a half (Pacific), although in both communities women were far better represented than men.

At the other end of the occupational hierarchy, both ethnic groups were strongly over-represented among blue-collar workers. While only 9.7% of Europeans were manual labourers, about 20% of Māori and Pacific people were involved in this work. They were also overrepresented in the machinery operation group. Māori and Pacific people – especially women – were also well represented among community and personal-service occupations such as carers, health workers and the hospitality industry.


In 2013 Asians were strongly represented among professional jobs, especially sales representatives. They were reasonably represented among managers, but were not commonly found in machine operation jobs. In terms of occupational status Asian people in New Zealand were doing comparatively well in salaried professional and managerial work.

Equity goals

In 2010 the New Zealand government issued a Tertiary Education Strategy. Among its priorities was improving the number of Māori and Pacific students enjoying success in higher education. To this end the Tertiary Education Commission had special equity funding to improve the achievement of Māori and Pacific students, along with those who were disabled.


The concentration of Māori and Pacific people in unskilled work, and the representation of Asian and European people in white-collar jobs, was largely a reflection of their educational qualifications. In 2013 one third of Māori aged 15 and over had no school qualifications, as did more than three out of 10 Pacific people. This contrasted with one in eight Asians and fewer than a quarter of Europeans.

Asian people in New Zealand aged 15 and over had the highest proportion of people with a bachelor’s degree (23.7%). This was three times the proportion of Māori with degrees and almost four times the Pacific level. The proportion of Asians with a degree was almost double the rate for the population as a whole. This partly reflected the stringent immigration requirements for Asians who arrived after the 1980s, but was also due to cultural traditions that emphasise the value of education.

How to cite this page:

David Pearson, 'Ethnic inequalities - Occupation and education', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 May 2019)

Story by David Pearson, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 21 May 2018