Story: Rhythms of daily life

For 19th-century Māori and settlers, daily life was structured by seasons, the phases of the moon and – for settlers in particular – the days of the week. Today the rhythms of daily life are increasingly shaped by work and school hours, public transport timetables and even television schedules.

Story by Megan Cook
Main image: Reading a bedtime story

Story Summary

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The 19th and early 20th centuries

Māori moved in groups around their rohe (tribal areas) according to the seasons, setting up temporary homes while hunting, gathering or harvesting seasonal foods.

Pākehā farm workers’ lives were also shaped by the seasons. Meanwhile Pākehā community life, both rural and urban, revolved largely around the days of the week. Saturday was payday, and it might also be a half-holiday or market day. Sunday was for church, as well as rest and recreation.

After the Second World War towns grew and urban job opportunities increased. More Māori moved to cities and adapted to urban rhythms and routines.

Children and teenagers

Education was made free and compulsory in 1877, and with almost all children in school by 1901, it became a major part of their daily lives.

Routines for teenagers were at first similar to those of working adults. At the beginning of the 20th century, most children left school at about 13 and went to work. This began to change as increasing numbers went to secondary school. The leaving age was lifted to 15 in 1944 and then 16 in 1989.

Working age adults

Gender and marital status strongly shaped daily rhythms until the later 20th century. Before then married women, with or without children, usually stayed at home, while men went out to work.

In the later 20th century the major difference in daily routine was between women with children and other adults in paid employment. Many mothers organised their working life around their children as far as possible, while women without children and men with or without children did not.

Older adults

Retirement is a time to take it easy, and for many people over the age of 65, life falls into a more relaxed rhythm. Sleeping a little later, socialising and playing sport, visiting and helping out family all become possible on weekdays as well as weekends.

While most – although not all – of those over 65 leave paid work, they don’t stop working. Surveys show that their hours of unpaid work increase.

How to cite this page:

Megan Cook, 'Rhythms of daily life', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/rhythms-of-daily-life (accessed 21 September 2018)

Story by Megan Cook, published 5 Sep 2013