Kōrero: Occupational structure

If you were a man in 19th-century New Zealand, you would most likely be working as a farmer or miner, as the most common occupations were in the primary industries. By the early 2000s most people work in service industries. The changing structure of occupations reflects the way New Zealand society has evolved.

He kōrero nā Paul Callister and Robert Didham
Te āhua nui: Apprentice builder Jason Bint at work

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What is an occupation?

An occupation is the type of work someone does, such as being a teacher, nurse or plumber. Over time a worker could have several jobs, with different employers, but stay in the same occupation.

Groups of occupations

Occupations have traditionally been divided into manual or non-manual. Manual occupations require mainly physical effort, such as a labourer or a factory worker; while non-manual require mainly mental effort, such as a salesperson or a journalist.

However, many jobs defined as ‘manual’, such as plumber, need mental skills such as problem solving, and ‘non-manual’ jobs, such as surgeon, often need physical skills.

Measuring occupations

People are asked about their occupation in the five-yearly census. Until 1986 it didn’t include unpaid work. Some people have more than one job, and some – such as burglar – are hard to measure because people are very unlikely to record them in surveys.

Occupation change

The change in common occupations over time tells us a lot about the way New Zealand has changed.

  • In 1867 the most common occupation was mining. Women who worked were usually domestic servants.
  • In 1896 farmer and farm labourer were the most common occupations.
  • By the mid-20th century new technology had introduced new occupations such as typist, and more people worked in offices.
  • After the Second World War teaching became the fourth most common occupation and many people worked in public services.
  • In 2006 some common jobs were: chief executive, policy and planning manager, chef and waiter.


To work in some occupations you need to have the right qualifications. For example doctors must have a medical degree and builders must have a trade-related qualification. People without qualifications have a smaller range of occupations to choose from.

In 2006 professionals, such as lawyers, accountants or teachers, were the most-qualified group of workers.


Younger people tend to work in particular occupations, such as sales and labouring. Managers and farmers tend to be older.

Working hours

Workers in some occupations, such as managers or truck drivers, are more likely to work long hours.

People working in occupations such as baker or dairy farmer tend to start work early in the morning.

Place of work

In the 2000s more people are able to work from home because of telecommunications and the internet. Some only work part of the time at home.


During the 20th century more women entered the paid workforce. Some occupations, such as administrators and teachers, have more women. Labourers and tradespeople are more likely to be men.


Māori and Pacific people tend to have lower levels of education than Pākehā or Asian workers, and tend to be younger. These factors influence the kinds of occupations people work in. Māori are increasingly entering professions such as law, medicine and business administration.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Paul Callister and Robert Didham, 'Occupational structure', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/occupational-structure (accessed 15 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Paul Callister and Robert Didham, i tāngia i te 11 o Māehe 2010