One in five young New Zealanders have experienced material hardship during childhood

One in five young New Zealanders have experienced material hardship during childhood
April 5, 2023

Research published today by Growing Up in New Zealand provides a contemporary longitudinal view of material hardship for children in Aotearoa New Zealand, finding that one fifth of today’s young people have experienced material hardship by the time they are 12-years old.

“When we take a longitudinal view of children’s experiences across their childhood, our findings show much greater numbers of New Zealand children have experienced hardship than what prior research suggests,” said Dr Kate Prickett, a lead researcher for Growing Up in New Zealand and Director of Roy McKenzie Centre for the Study of Families and Children at Victoria University of Wellington.

”We were also able to see how some families move in and out of hardship at different time points.  We found our families were far more likely toexperience hardship during the infancy and pre-school years. However, one in ten twelve-year-olds were also experiencing hardship.”

The findings are from thousands of young people in the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study. This study is funded by the New Zealand Government and administered by the Ministry of Social Development to look at the development and wellbeing of children and young people in Aotearoa New Zealand over time with the latest information gathered at the age of 12-years.  

Material hardship is a direct measure of families’ access to everyday essential items, such as food, housing, and medical care. Our respondents identified with a number of the measures for material hardship.  For example, putting off dental (20 percent) or doctor’s visits (5 percent), families not having contents insurance (18 percent) and buying cheaper or less meat (15 percent)and going without fruit and vegetables (5 percent).

“This research found significant numbers of children and families going without. It highlights a real opportunity for government to target interventions at times where families are more likely to fall into hardship.”

“Experiences of material hardship are linked with children’s health and wellbeing—effects that can been shown to be associated with longer term consequences for later health and educational attainment.” said Dr Prickett.

Key findings

  • One in five had lived in material hardship at some point by the time they were 12 years old, with most experiencing hardship in the early childhood years.
  • At age 12, one in 10 were living in households reporting material hardship.
  • Those living in material hardship at age 12were more likely to be from sole parent homes, lower-income households, and identify as Māori and/or Pacific.
  • Longitudinal modelling identified four common trajectories of material circumstances across childhood: Material Wellbeing(78.1% of children), Mostly in Wellbeing (15%), Increasing Hardship (3.5%), and Persistent Hardship (3.3%).

“Understanding what helps children to thrive is so important and longitudinal studies like Growing Up in New Zealand are essential for creating well-informed policies.”


For more information, please contact:

Julia Crosfield

Media and Communications, Growing Up in New Zealand

027 282 4896

Saraid Black
Communications Manager, Growing Up in New Zealand

09 923 7390 or 0274 732 211

Background for editors:

Now We Are Twelve:

·  The snapshot “Material Hardship” is the second of nine in a series looking at the development and wellbeing of twelve-year-olds in New Zealand.

· The snapshot series by Growing Up in New Zealand is called "Now We Are Twelve". The nine snapshots are being published between April and June 2023 and cover the following topics: ethnic and gender identity (released today); material hardship (released today); food security; housing and homelessness; COVID-19impact on child and whānau wellbeing; mental health; school engagement; disability; and relationships.