Story: Society

Page 8. Modern society

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New Zealand in the world

New Zealand is becoming more closely integrated into a global society. This is sometimes seen as Americanisation, and a departure from the country’s previous reliance on Britain for social and cultural models. Movies and television have been a major influence.

New Zealanders now rarely call England, Ireland or Scotland ‘home’, though this was common until the middle of the 20th century.

Overseas travel

Exposure to the outside world increased as overseas travel became more common. In 1950 there were 11 short-term departures per 1,000 population. By 2000 the number had leapt to 355. More than half the short-term departures from New Zealand were for Australia. Young people gaining their ‘OE’ (overseas experience) is an established feature of New Zealand life. London remains the major single destination for young New Zealanders travelling overseas, partly because they can work temporarily in Britain under various schemes.

Changing influences

By 2006 less than 7% of the population was British-born. Although television shows such as Coronation Street and The office are popular, British influences on popular culture – from movies and television to music and fashion – have been largely overtaken by American and, increasingly, global trends. Australian influences are not as great as might be expected, given that the two countries share colonial origins and similar histories.

As the population has become more diverse, Asians and Pacific Islanders have woven new threads into the culture. A large number of young New Zealanders travel and work overseas, many of them teaching English in countries like Japan, Korea and China. This created a channel of influences from those countries to New Zealand.


In the main urban areas, 97% of households have telephones. In rural areas the rate is well above 90%. In 2006, two-thirds of all private dwellings had access to the internet at home. Almost all children had access to computers at school.

Texting and talking

In 2001, 58% of households had at least one mobile phone, up from 22% in 1997–98, and by 2008 68% of 12–13 year olds had one. Following many other developed countries, New Zealand banned the use of mobile phones while driving in 2009.

The car and public transport

About 90% of all households have access to at least one motor vehicle. In 2001, two in three New Zealanders travelled to work by car. Only one in 20 walked or ran to work.

Only about 2% of journeys were made by bus, and even fewer by rail. For long-distance public transport, air travel has largely replaced trains, buses and ferries, although vestigial train services survive, and the Wellington–Picton ferry services between the two main islands are important.

Driving passion

New Zealanders love their cars. There are four million vehicles for five million people, making the ownership rate one of the world’s highest – New Zealand ranked eighth in 1997, with 560 cars per 1,000 people.


Between 1962 and 1995, the number of recorded offences per 1,000 population increased nearly fourfold.

The number of murders in New Zealand ranges between 40 and 65 from year to year. Convictions for violent offences are increasing, and most burglaries remain unsolved.

In 2011 there were almost 8,500 people in the country's 19 prisons. Over half of the prison population were Māori, and around 40% were below the age of 30.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Society - Modern society', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 April 2024)

Story by John Wilson, published 8 Feb 2005