Using census data to examine changes in wellbeing for Samoan, Cook Island, Tongan and Niuean households.

Author:Cotterell, Gerard
Position:Report
 
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Abstract

In recent years a number of publications have examined changes in wellbeing for the overall population in New Zealand. These reports have each made a contribution to understanding the impacts on and changes within different population groups in the past 20 or so years. However, primarily due to data constraints, relatively little analysis of the impact of these changes has been done on specific sub-groups of the population. This paper demonstrates how Census data can be used to examine changes in wellbeing for population sub-groups. It uses indicators derived from Census data to describe changes in wellbeing for Samoan, Cook Island, Tongan and Niuean households of different types over the period 1981--2006.

INTRODUCTION

In recent years a number of publications have examined changes in wellbeing for the overall population in New Zealand (Krishnan and Jensen 2005, Ministry of Social Development 2007, 2008, Cotterell et al. 2008, Quality of Life Team 2003, 2007, Perry 2008, Podder and Chatterjee 1998). These reports have each made a contribution to our understanding of various social, cultural and economic impacts on different groups in the population as a result of the changes that have occurred in the past 20 or so years.

However, primarily due to data constraints, relatively little analysis of the impact of these changes has been done on specific sub-groups of the population. This paper demonstrates how Census data can be used to examine changes in wellbeing for population sub-groups. It uses indicators derived from the New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings to describe changes in wellbeing for Samoan, Cook Island, Tongan and Niuean households over the period 1981--2006.

The paper begins by is discussing the issues associated with ascribing ethnicity to a household, before briefly detailing the use of Census data and the construction of wellbeing indicators. The substantive part of the paper then discusses the changes in wellbeing for Samoan, Cook Island, Tongan and Niuean households of different types, in the domains of income, employment and housing, over the 1981--2006 period. The paper concludes with a discussion of the results.

The intent of the paper is to demonstrate that differences do exist in the levels of wellbeing experienced by Pacific households of different ethnicities. The paper also provides a framework for measuring the wellbeing of sub-groups of the population that researchers can utilise for future research, and establishes a baseline of information from which researchers can draw as they conduct more detailed research. We hope the information presented here provokes further interest and examination by subject matter experts on different aspects of the information supplied.

ASCRIBING ETHNICITY TO A HOUSEHOLD

One of the primary aims of this paper is to investigate changes in wellbeing for what we have labelled "Samoan", "Cook Island", "Tongan" and "Niuean" households. There are two preliminary issues associated with such a task. The first task involves the development of a method for ascribing a "general" Pacific ethnicity to a household. The second task involves ascribing a particular/specific Pacific ethnicity to a particular household. These issues are discussed in turn.

The issue of how to identify family and, by association, household ethnicity has provoked considerable discussion among academics and analysts in New Zealand (for example, see Rochford 1996, Callister 2006, Callister et al. 2007, 2008). Can a Pacific family be "categorised" as one where one of the adults identifies as Pacific, or only where both adults identify as Pacific; or is it one where a majority of the family members identify as Pacific, or one where any one member of the family identifies as Pacific? Furthermore, given that ethnicity is identified as a personal trait (Statistics New Zealand 2004), can we even meaningfully identify the ethnicity of a household?

In addition to the conceptual and definitional/categorial issues associated with identifying family ethnicity, ethnicity itself is an area of considerable complexity and debate within social research. Data on ethnicity are collected as attributes of an individual, and therefore ascribing an ethnicity to a family is theoretically problematic. In addition, the increasing levels of ethnic intermarriage and increasing numbers of people with multiple ethnic identities make it difficult for researchers to use and analyse ethnicity data.

This paper does not intend to revisit the debates around these issues; Statistics New Zealand, as part of its recent review of the measurement of ethnicity, has published on its website a series of informative papers that discuss these issues and provides examples for researchers on how to gather, use and interpret ethnicity data. (2)

The method we employ to define a Pacific household is to require that at least one of the adults living within the household identifies as Pacific. This approach consequently looks at households in which there is a member of Pacific ethnicity rather than at "Pacific" households. In other words, ethnic identification remains at the individual level and we look at the family and household environments of such individuals.

The issue of how to define what constitutes a "Pacific" household of a particular ethnicity is similarly far from clear cut. In defining whether a household was of Samoan, Cook Island, Tongan or Niuean ethnicity, we employed a similar method to that for defining a Pacific household. That is, we define a household as Tongan, for example, where at least one of the adults identifies as Tongan, and so on for the Samoan, Cook Island and Niuean households.

This approach does mean that there is overlap among the categories through intermarriage. For instance a household with one Samoan adult and one Tongan adult will be represented in both ethnic sub-groups. However, the extent of this overlap was found to be very small (less than 1,000 for any combination in any Census year) and we go only so far as noting it here.

MEASURING THE WELLBEING OF "PACIFIC" HOUSEHOLDS USING CENSUS DATA

All data used in this paper were derived from the five-yearly New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings, as conducted between 1981 and 2006 by Statistics New Zealand. (3) The use of Census data has both advantages and disadvantages for this analysis of changes in wellbeing for Pacific households.

The disadvantages are linked to the limited range and depth of information collected, the frequency of collection for some data, and the ways in which family types are defined and measured. For the purposes of creating indicators with which to measure changes in wellbeing, we are constrained by the information available through Census data. Family and household wellbeing may be influenced by other factors (e.g. the perceived quality of family/household relationships) for which no Census information is available. In addition, there may be particular aspects of wellbeing that are of importance for Pacific households but are not collected by the Census.

This lack of suitable information also results in some indicators being indirect proxy measures for the attributes in which we are interested. For example, the health indicator analysed in the wider study (Cotterell et al. 2008) examines changes in the proportion of families/households with at least one adult receiving health-related benefits, rather than being an actual measure of the state of physical health of a family. The format of Census data can also place limitations on the ability to interpret changes. For example, income data are available only in banded categories rather than discrete amounts; therefore our "median equivalised income" indicator is based on these banded data, and uses medians of the band categories, which reduces its accuracy.

Finally, the Census definition of "family" incorporates only those members who live within the same household. Census wellbeing measures may thus be unsatisfactory indicators for families whose members live in multiple locations. In particular, this relates to separated/divorced adults who usually share custody of their children, and children who live across two households. The ability to monitor the wellbeing of those in extended family situations is also constrained by this household-based definition of family, an issue which may be of particular importance for Pacific households.

The Census has the following advantages for conducting a study of this type. Firstly, the use of Census data allows for an assessment of continuity and change in societal patterns over a long period of time (in this case 25 years). Secondly, because the Census collects information on (almost) all members of the population, (4) its use allows us to examine the wellbeing of all New Zealanders and to report specific information on small population groupings, as in the case of this research. Finally, because the Census collects information on all individuals living in common dwelling units (households), we can conduct household- and family-level analyses, acknowledging the fundamental interdependence between family members and showing how the impact of wider change has varied for different types of families.

Wellbeing Indicators

The original set of indicators used for this study was obtained from the work of Milligan et al.

(2006). The main report based on these indicators (Cotterell et al. 2008) describes various changes made to and exclusions made from the original set. This paper presents overall results for Pacific families using that same resulting set of indicators, described in Table 1 below, with only the Income, Employment and Housing domains being...

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