Study design and research focus

Growing Up in New Zealand is delivering an up-to-date, population-relevant picture of what it is like to be a child growing up in New Zealand in the 21st century. It is unique in terms of its capacity to provide a comprehensive picture of child development across multiple domains of influence for all children currently being born in New Zealand.

The conceptual framework

Growing Up in New Zealand conceptual research framework

Growing Up in New Zealand has been designed as a longitudinal and multidisciplinary study. It also includes a translational dimension, with an explicit intent to both relate to the current policy context and inform future policy development. The study builds on the value and lessons learnt from earlier New Zealand longitudinal studies which began in the 1970s, while reflecting the scientific and demographic changes that have occurred since.

The conceptual framework for Growing Up in New Zealand takes a lifecourse approach to child development. It recognises the dynamic interactions between children and their environments across a broad range of influences, from their immediate family environments to their wider societal context. The information collected from the families is centered on the child, and is collected to determine what factors influence child development over time, rather than as a series of cross-sectional snapshots.

The model incorporates the view that the development of all children begins from before they are born (intergenerational), and that the outcome of each child's life is the result of a complex interplay between the individual's biology and their environment (epigenetic).



Study design

Growing Up in New Zealand's six domains and four themes

To operationalise its conceptual framework, Growing Up in New Zealand focuses on six topical domains, interwoven with four themes. These themes emphasise the need to collect information relevant for the ethnically diverse New Zealand population as well as for Māori development.

The domains and themes represent the multi-disciplinary influences that need to be considered at any cross-sectional point in time for each child in the study. The lattice is modelled on the weaving of a kete, a traditional Māori basket, which holds all the elements necessary for life.

At each data collection point in the study, information is sought from participants on the current status of each of these domains and themes for the children and their environments, whilst keeping a longitudinal perspective overall.

Domain experts provide input across the multiple research disciplines that influence the various aspects of child development. They work longside theme experts who provide guidance to relate this disciplinary evidence to the unique New Zealand population and context.



The questions we ask

The domain and theme structure was used to inform the key research questions that Growing Up in New Zealand addresses to understand child development in New Zealand over time. These are summarised in four over-arching research questions:

  1. What determines developmental trajectories across multiple levels of influence (political, social, cultural, intergenerational, familial and individual) through the life course in the major domains of interest?
  2. How are New Zealand children faring developmentally across multiple domains at discrete points in the lifecourse?
  3. How are these developmental trajectories and outcomes associated with ethnicity across the lifecourse?
  4. What factors and trajectories, particularly across multiple levels of influence, confer resilience and optimise development for New Zealand children?

Based on these key questions, specific research questions were developed to shape the design of the longitudinal study throughout its 21 years. They are divided by domain, however, each question is not only relevant to one specific domain. Rather the collective set of questions addresses the overall study objectives. As each data collection wave is planned these questions are used to begin the process of deciding what constructs need to be measured at each point in time.


Health and wellbeing

  • What are the developmental pathways that determine the health status of children across their lifecourse from antenatal development to early adulthood?
  • How does an individual's biological profile, and the environment in which they grow, mutually interact over time to influence development?


Psychosocial and cognitive development

  • What are the key determinants of the developmental trajectories that lead to psychosocial competence, and what precipitates either continuity or change in these trajectories?
  • What biological and environmental factors impact on cognitive ability and how do these factors influence developmental outcomes and trajectories over the lifecourse?



  • How do the multiple levels of educational context and composition, self, family and environment influence and affect educational and development outcomes over time?
  • What factors influence academic motivation, perceived academic competence and educational achievement through life, in particular at key transition points?



  • How does the quality of family dynamics including sibling, parent-child, inter-parental and relationships with extended family and whanāu influence children's development?
  • How do children's experiences of family/whanāu lives vary and what factors confer resilience or present risks to their development, in diverse family/whānau forms and in periods of transition?
  • How involved are fathers in children's lives, and what are their influences over time on children's development and wellbeing?


Culture and identity

  • How are culture and ethnic identity understood and shaped for children and their families and what developmental trajectories are associated with different cultural upbringings across the lifecourse?
  • What influences do the physical, social and cultural environments have on children and their families' cultural experiences and identities in terms of holistic development?


Societal context and neighbourhood environment

  • What are the key features (social networks, infrastructure, and physical environment) of neighbourhoods and environment which impact on an individual's development over time?
  • What role do neighbourhoods and environment have in mediating the associations between family circumstances, dynamics and social conditions, and child development?
  • How important is engagement of the family and child with key social services and institutions - including health, education and social service providers - in affecting child outcomes? What factors in the social and family environment facilitate effective engagement?
  • How are diverse social and economic contexts expressed in family values, practices, beliefs and resources? How are child outcomes shaped by the effect of these social locations on family values, practices, beliefs and resources?
  • How are child outcomes affected by the nature of their parents' workforce participation, and what factors both internal and external to the family modify these effects?
  • What effects do mass media, communications, and new technologies have on children's health and development, and what factors in the family and social environment modify these effects?


See the questionnaires