Kōrero: Ethnic inequalities

Whārangi 7. Housing, health and justice

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

Many Māori and Pacific people and other members of ethnic minorities live in inferior housing compared to the majority. This is partly explained by their lower incomes, fewer educational qualifications (limiting employment prospects) and higher unemployment rates. Social barriers in local housing markets are also significant.

Home ownership

There was a general decline in the number of New Zealand residents owning or partly owning (as mortgagees) their own homes from 2001 through to 2013. However, Māori and Pacific people were significantly less likely to own, rather than rent, their homes, and this trend consolidated over this period. In 2013, 28.2% of Māori households and 18.5% of Pacific households owned their homes. By comparison 56.8% of European households and 34.8% of Asian households owned their homes.

Quality of housing

Māori and Pacific homes were more crowded. In 2013 almost 24% of Pacific households had two or more families living in them, compared with 7.5% of the total population. 12% of Māori households were comprised of more than one family.

Some Māori found that the houses they rented or owned were not well-designed for their needs and cultural traditions. The properties did not have large common areas which could function like a mini-marae and accommodate visiting whānau, and there was sometimes no clear separation between the kitchen and the laundry (infringing traditional taboos).


Ethnic minorities, with close-knit family, tribal and religious ties, often choose to live together when shifting to urban areas. Arrivals with limited resources may also face discrimination. While New Zealand has no ghettos comparable to those in many overseas cities, there are clear signs of residential segregation between ethnic groups. In Auckland, for example, two-thirds of the Manukau ward’s residents were Māori and Pacific, while over half of people living in the central business district were Asian. Houses on the North Shore were worth considerably more on average than those in South Auckland.


Overcrowding and substandard housing sometimes led to poorer health among Māori and Pacific people. These groups have much higher rates of hospital admissions attributed to overcrowding than other ethnic groups. Pacific and (to a lesser extent) Māori people had significantly higher obesity rates, and smoked more, while Asians had significantly lower levels of obesity and smoking. In 2014/15, 32% of Māori and 23% of Pacific people exhibited potentially hazardous alcohol drinking patterns, 18% of Europeans and other ethnic groups and 5% of Asians.

Not such a ‘white plague’

One of the diseases most feared by people until the introduction of antibiotics was tuberculosis, sometimes called the ‘white plague’. But tuberculosis has not disappeared and remains an illness associated with poverty. Between 1995 and 2004 the incidence of tuberculosis among Māori was about 10 times the level found in Pākehā New Zealanders.

Such conditions helped produce lower life expectancy. In 2012-14 life expectancy at birth was 7.3 years lower for Māori than non-Māori males, and 6.9 years lower for Māori women than non-Māori women. The gap had narrowed since the early 1950s, but it remained significant. (Figures for Pacific and Asian people were not available.) Age-standardised death rates were significantly higher for Māori and Pacific than Pākehā or Asian people. Asians had the lowest rate of all.


Māori, in particular, are strongly overrepresented in the criminal justice system. In 2014 Māori comprised just over half the prison population and over 40% of all criminal apprehensions. Of women in prison, over 60% were Māori. On an age-standardised basis, the Māori imprisonment rate in the early 2000s was 514 per 100,000 – compared with 152 per 100,000 for the whole population.

These figures reflect complex factors, ranging from historical and current bias in the operation of the justice system to other forms of inequality faced by Māori, such as lack of education, high levels of unemployment, and poorer living conditions. Age profiles, socio-economic status and media stereotyping also need to be considered.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

David Pearson, 'Ethnic inequalities - Housing, health and justice', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/ethnic-inequalities/page-7 (accessed 25 July 2024)

He kōrero nā David Pearson, i tāngia i te 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 21 May 2018