Story: Older people

Older New Zealanders report the highest level of happiness with their lives of all age groups. They may earn less money than others, but find their satisfaction in family, friends and the time to pursue their interests. Older people in the 21st century have lived longer on average than people at any time in New Zealand’s history.

Story by Peggy Koopman-Boyden
Main image: Red Hat meeting

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Older New Zealanders

Older people in New Zealand are defined as those 65 years of age and over. People between 65 and 80 are sometimes called ‘young-old’, and people over 80 are called ‘old-old’. 55% of older people are women. Most older people are European – 88% in 2013.

The number of older New Zealanders is rapidly increasing. In 2015, 15% of the population was over 65, but by 2038, about one in four will be over 65. There will be more people who need pensions, and smaller numbers of people working and paying tax.

Older people’s lives

Most older people retire at 65. Until 1999 this was often compulsory. Older people have lower average incomes than other age groups because many live on a pension – paid by the government – as their main income.

The majority of older people live in their own homes in urban areas. The house is usually their only asset, but some have shares or savings, which can add to their income. Some older people live in retirement villages or granny flats. When they can no longer look after themselves they move into rest homes. The government will pay for their rest home care if they cannot afford it. Eligibility is based on the results of a financial means test.

On average, older people in the 21st century have lived longer than any previous generation. Older people are more likely than younger people to suffer from ill health, with conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, dementia or cancer. They have access to relatively low cost medical care and receive free hospital care for life threatening conditions such as strokes, heart attacks and cancer.


Widowhood is a common experience among older people, along with the death of old friends.

Many older people are grandparents – grandchildren are often described as a 'gift'. Grandparents often care for grandchildren on a part-time basis, if they live nearby. Sometimes they become the main caregivers for their grandchildren. Some cultures highly value the way older people pass on traditions to their grandchildren or mokopuna. Older Māori men and women are important tribal leaders.

In the 2010s, a third of older people did volunteer work. Many of them also joined community organisations such as sports or cultural clubs.

Some older people take the opportunity of a work-free life to travel round the country or overseas. Some stay in touch with family overseas via the internet.

Older people’s politics

As the number of older New Zealanders grows, they are likely to become a powerful bloc of voters. There is no political party representing them specifically, but some parties such as New Zealand First have courted their votes. New Zealand First introduced the SuperGold card which provides older people with subsidies on transport and some other services.

Older people’s political concerns include national superannuation (their pension), housing, mobility, future care, elder neglect and age discrimination.

How to cite this page:

Peggy Koopman-Boyden, 'Older people', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 June 2024)

Story by Peggy Koopman-Boyden, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 22 August 2018