Story: Society

Page 3. Families and households

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The family

In 1962 there were 66,000 births. By 2001 this had dropped to 56,221. During the same period, the number of women of childbearing age rose by 70%, but fewer of them were opting for motherhood. Those who did were having children later. In 2004 women aged 30–34 years had the highest birth rate.

Families are also getting smaller. The proportion of families with one child was 35.3% in 2001, and the proportion with three children dropped slightly, from 19.3% in 1962 to 17.7% in 2001.

Going it alone

New Zealand has the third highest rate of one-parent families in the world (after Canada and the United Kingdom). In 2001, 31% of families had a single parent, a proportion which has been slowly rising. They are distinctly poorer than two-parent families. Most single parents are women, and about half are in the 20–34 age group.

Marriage and divorce

Marriage is less popular than it was. The number of marriages (measured against the number of people who are not married) has declined from 45.5 per 1,000 in 1971 to 16.2 in 1992. It has remained at about this level.

Those New Zealanders who do marry are making the decision later than in the past. In 1971, nearly 33% of all brides were in their teens; by 1999 this proportion had fallen dramatically – to a mere 3%.

The divorce rate (the number of divorces per 1,000 existing marriages) rose from 7.4 in 1976 to 12.6 by 1999. In 2002 there were more than 10,000 divorces – about half the number of marriages.


In 2001 the average number of people in a household was well below three persons (in 1976 it was 3.5). Single-person households have increased to more than 300,000, about a quarter of the total. One reason for this is the longer life expectancy of women aged 65 and over who are living alone.

Crowded houses

People are considered to be living in crowded conditions when the number of people per bedroom rises above a certain level. In 2001, about 5% of all households were crowded. But over time, the problem has eased. In 1986, 72,924 households required more bedrooms; by 2001 the number had fallen to 65,088.

People in South Auckland are most likely to be living in crowded conditions, and Māori and Pacific Islanders are affected more than other groups.

Home ownership

One-third of New Zealand’s households rent rather than own their homes. Māori and Pacific Islanders are more likely to live in rented homes. Europeans are more likely to own their homes without a mortgage, but this is partly because the European population is older and has therefore had longer to pay off their mortgages. Overall, the percentage of New Zealanders owning their own homes declined from 73.8% of all privately occupied dwellings in 1991 to 67.8% in 2001.

Renting and owning

Home ownership is no longer the dream of many New Zealanders, although in the early 2000s it was relatively easy to obtain a mortgage. The number of dwellings that are rented rather than owned has risen dramatically since 1981.The home ownership rate has dropped from 74% in the early 1990s, but at 68% it is still high by OECD standards.

Housing types

Detached, single-family houses constitute about 80% of all private dwellings. But multi-unit dwellings are increasing in number.

The proportion of larger homes, with four or more bedrooms, has been slowly rising, indicating both increased wealth and greater inequalities in income. In 2001, 73.5% of all New Zealand houses had between one and three bedrooms, down from 80.5% in 1991. Between 1991 and 2001 the number of four- to six-bedroom houses increased from 16% to 20.4% of the total number of dwellings.

A small number of New Zealanders own second or holiday homes. A redistribution of wealth has resulted in the traditional ‘bach’ (or ‘crib’ in the southern South Island) – usually a small, basic house, often built by the owners – giving way to more substantial residences in some areas.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Society - Families and households', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 April 2024)

Story by John Wilson, published 8 Feb 2005