Poipoia te kākano kia puawai: Family structure, change and the wellbeing of tamariki Māori

Poipoia te kākano kia puawai: Family structure, ch…
01 Jul 2020


This report examines family structure and change for tamariki Māori, and their potential impacts on early childhood development and wellbeing.

The results of this study are timely given the prioritisation of child wellbeing in current and future policy settings, and the ambitious goal of making Aotearoa NZ the best place in the world to be a child. One of the main principles underpinning the draft outcomes framework of the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy is that the “wellbeing of children and young people is interwoven with the wellbeing of the family and whānau” (DPMC, 2019). This focus on the child–whānau nexus entails a clear understanding of the complexity, diversity and fluidity of the family and household context, and the links with child wellbeing and development.


Data for this study came from the New Zealand Longitudinal Census (NZLC) (2001, 2006 and 2013) and Growing Up in New Zealand (GUiNZ). The NZLC was used to examine family structure and change for tamariki Māori over their entire childhood, as well as for all children in Aotearoa NZ. Longitudinal data from GUiNZ were used to explore family structure and change (family ‘trajectories’) for tamariki Māori in their first four and a half years of life, and the potential links with their early development and wellbeing (cognitive development, socio-emotional outcomes, cultural connectedness). We also explored whether cultural connectedness operates as a mediator between family trajectories and children’s cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes. The main study area was Auckland, Counties Manukau and Waikato.

The report is structured as follows:

  • First, we examine the research on family and household structure and stability and child wellbeing, placing this literature in the context of New Zealand generally and Māori families specifically. Consideration is given to the ways in which cultural identity might promote tamariki Māori wellbeing and development and buffer adversity.
  • Second, we describe the results of analyses from the NZLC and GUiNZ. In this section, we examine changes in household composition for children generally, and Māori tamariki specifically, among the most recent cohort of children to transition to adulthood (ie those aged between 0–4 years at the 2001 Census) using the NZLC. We then analyse data from GUiNZ to provide a close examination of family structure and changes in family structure during early childhood and we look at how those patterns are associated with early childhood development.
  • The concluding section considers the substantive and policy implications of our study.

Key Results

  1. a stable two-parent family is the primary experience, and sole parenthood is transitory
  2. diverse family trajectories are linked to poorer cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes for tamariki Māori, but are not the main driver
  3. diverse family trajectories are associated with higher levels of cultural connectedness among tamariki Māori, and this seems to promote socio-emotional development.
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