New Zealanders' satisfaction with family relationships and parenting

New Zealanders' satisfaction with family relations…
01 Aug 2006

This report presents the results of a national survey of New Zealanders’ relationships. The survey was conducted for Relationship Services, in order to provide them with information about how New Zealanders viewed their relationships, the satisfying and challenging aspects of those relationships and how relationship problems are dealt with. It also asked about experiences of parenting and, for those who were not in a current relationship, the positive aspects and the drawbacks of being single.

This report was produced for the Families Commission Blue Skies Fund by Jeremy Robertson of the Roy McKenzie Centre for the Study of Families, Victoria University, with the assistance of Relationship Services New Zealand.



The choice of the statistical tests used for analysis of this data was dependent on the nature of the variable/s being investigated and the degree to which they meet the assumptions of the particular test (for example, with respect to the distribution of the responses on the variable). Some questions asked for a scaled response on a 1 to 5 rating scale (eg importance and satisfaction). Unfortunately much of this data was highly skewed, with the majority of respondents being very satisfied. This creates some problems for the analysis: firstly it can provide relatively little variance to be predicted, and secondly it can limit the use of ‘parametric’ statistics, which are based on the assumption of normally distributed interval data.

There are three main ways to handle this problem. Firstly to transform the scores to make them more normally distributed. Secondly, to use a non-parametric statistical test. Finally, to choose some cutpoint to create a binary variable from the scale data, and use appropriate statistics on the binary variable (eg Chi-square test for analysing the relationship between two nominal variables, or logistic regression for multiple independent variables). This last option has the disadvantage in that it loses information, ie by collapsing down a five-point scale to a two-point scale, useful information on response variability is lost. There is also difficulty in deciding on a cut-point, as the point chosen may influence the significance of the results, eg should the five-point scale be collapsed to 1-4 versus 5 or 1-3 versus 4-5.

However, despite these difficulties the t-test, a commonly used parametric test, is relatively ‘robust’ to any violation of test assumptions, especially with the relatively large sample sizes available in this study.In general the approach taken has been to use non-parametric tests, even though they have less ‘power’ than parametric tests. The main parametric tests used and their non-parametric equivalent (in brackets) are: Pearson correlations (Kendal tau-b); paired and unpaired t-test (Wilcoxon signed rank test and Mann-Whitney U test); analysis of variance (Kruskal-Wallis H); and regression or logistic regression.

Only statistically significant associations are mentioned in the text. A significance level of .05 was chosen, and all statistical tests are reported with the appropriate test statistic and significance level. Although statistical testing was generally limited to pre-planned comparisons, there is still a relatively large number of such tests and this can result in some results being significant by chance. For example, with a .05 significance level it is likely that five out of 100 comparisons will be tested as significant even though there are no real differences. There is therefore a danger in conducting a large number of statistical tests, and by doing so increasing the chances of finding significant differences due to chance. This needs to be kept in mind when considering these results. Finally, the practical significance of these findings must also be considered along with their statistical significance. The sample examined in this analysis is relatively large, and this can lead to statistically significant findings for differences that are, in practical terms, relatively small. This is particularly the case for the Chisquare test. Where gender differences are examined the actual percents are given to assist with interpreting the practical significance of statistically significant differences.

Key Results

The results indicate that a number of different relationships, both with immediate family, extended family and friends, were important to most people. These relationships were reported to be very satisfying, particularly those with a partner and with children. There were some interesting differences in rating of relationship importance and satisfaction by gender and ethnicity. Women rated most relationships as more important than men did, and also reported greater satisfaction with many of them. Māori rated relationships with extended family as more important, and in some cases more satisfying, than New Zealand Europeans.

Most reported being very satisfied with their current relationships, and most relationships had improved over time. A number of factors were identified as being important in close relationships, but a number of factors causing relationship tension were also cited. When strains occurred within a relationship a number of common strategies were used, and found helpful, in resolving tensions. Women, in particular, sought help from family and friends to resolve relationship difficulties.

Those who were single felt that there were a number of aspects to being single that were satisfying and helped them enjoy life as a single person. However there were also some negative aspects, although loneliness was cited as a problem by relatively few. This probably reflects the fact that many of the single respondents put work into building and maintaining relationships with family and friends.

Over two-thirds of the respondents were, or had been, parents. The majority were very satisfied with parenting, and men and women reported being similarly satisfied with being a parent. However, women were more likely to get both greater satisfaction from many aspects of parenting and to find many aspects more challenging. In particular, parents found seeing their child unhappy or withdrawn as the most challenging aspect of being a parent. Finding time for the children was also a major concern, and answers to other questions in the survey suggest that balancing work and family time is a major challenge for many families.

Finally, most of those surveyed reported being satisfied with their life overall. These results were in line with other New Zealand and overseas research, which indicates that most people are satisfied with their lives. While income and age were weakly associated with life satisfaction, the factor that was most strongly associated with overall life satisfaction was satisfaction with relationships, particularly that with a partner.

These results support overseas research that shows that having a range of healthy social relationships is important to individual wellbeing. Policies and therapeutic practices that support these relationships are important. Achieving a work-life balance and having time to maintain a healthy relationship with a partner appears to be one of the more common problems for those surveyed. This provides further evidence of the importance of policies to assist families. The research also identifies some of the more common relationship challenges and suggests that therapeutic practices may need to take into account some of the differences in the ways men and women respond to relationship difficulties.


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