New Insights into the Experienced Generations


<>Speech to Launch the Report “New Insights into the Experienced Generation” for the Hope Foundation, 30 July 2009

<> 

<>Keywords: Social Policy; Statistics;

<> 

<>This report represents a further step to our understanding of ourselves as a society. Only a few decades ago we treated all New Zealanders as the same, with the implicit assumption that they were moderately affluent white men, whose age did not matter because they all followed the All Blacks. Slowly and increasingly we have come to realise that ours is a community of diversity. It is no longer unnoticed that half the population lacks a Y chromosome, that brown skin does not only mean a good sun tan nor does yellow necessarily mean jaundice, that different generations differ in a variety of ways, and that there were rich and poor as well as the moderately affluent.

<> 

<>This report shows that so complex is New Zealand society, even those categories are not fine enough. Once we treated the half a million seniors as a single entity. The report shows there are groupings within them. To a lesser or greater degree an individual may belong to more than one group – any statistical technique has to draw lines to categorise – but the report underlines that not all the elderly are the same.

<> 

<>Our more subtle political commentators knew this. There are those who claim to speak for all the elderly. On certain matters – say the level of New Zealand Superannuation – the vast majority of the over 65s have a common interest. But the political polls show, and the political parties know, that on many issues the older generations are as divided as the rest of us; there can be no one spokesperson who represents them all.

<> 

<>What the Nielsen survey has done is identify five subgroups of roughly equal size. These categories reflect attitudinal differences rather than the standard demographic and financial differences which an economist uses.

<> 

<>Four of the five groups have much the same age profile – although Kiwi Battlers tend to be a little older.

<> 

<>Four of the five groups have much the same income – the exception is Affluent Investors, whose income tend to be about 50 percent higher than those in the other four groups. Even the groups’ average investments – excluding pension entitlements and housing – are more together than one might expect. Home ownership is clustered too: 83 percent of the Kiwi Battlers live in their own homes and so do 93 percent of the Affluent Investors.

<> 

<>Again, excepting the Affluent Investors, the seniors experience similar financial pressures, Typically just over about 40 percent of each of the four groups are finding their current financial situation a struggle, either having no spare money and feeling like they are going backwards, or they typically manage to meet expenses but have nothing over. Under 10 percent – again the affluent investors excepted – have few financial concerns. The figures are probably not very different for the rest of the population.

<> 

<>I am not surprised at this clustering of the financial variables of four-fifth of the elderly. A few years ago I was working on health and the financial characteristics of the population, and we trialed our statistical analysis on the over 65s. We, unexpectedly, found no relationship between health and income for those in the bottom four quintiles, although those with top incomes were healthier. We concluded that the incomes of the majority of the majority of the elderly were so clustered together on the income dimension that it was not good predictors of their behaviour.

<> 

<>Affluent investors aside – as in our study, they are almost exactly a fifth – this study separates the remainder mainly by non-economic variables. At which point an economist should perhaps go silent, except I am also a social statistician. So what does the survey tell us?

<> 

<>To my surprise, the four groups are not divided by two dimensions, but by three.

<> 

<>The first dimension on which they are all divided into two groups is health. The behaviour of Active and Awares and the Paradoxical Pensioners conform more to the recommendations of health professionals than do Traditionalists and Kiwi Battlers.

<> 

<>It is the environment which distinguishes the Actives from the Paradoxical. The Actives and Aware are pro-Green while the Paradoxical Pensioners think the threats to the environment are exaggerated.

<> 

<>The other two groups are both less concerned with environmental pressures. What seems to separate them is that the Traditionalists are more likely to have an active social life, while the Kiwi Battlers appear more isolated – which may not be surprising given that they are more likely to be living alone, are older and are poorer. Even so they, and all the other groups, are likely to make charitable donations or do voluntary work. It is possible that Traditionalists evolve into Kiwi Battlers as they get older.

<> 

<>Affluent Investors fit into this pattern as follows. Their health activities are similar to the Actives and Paradoxical and they seem socially integrated, but the report does not tell us about their environmental concerns.

<> 

<>In summary, the divisions reported here are those you might expect if you looked at most age groups in our society. Just as New Zealanders are diverse as a whole, so are the seniors. They have particular concerns, of course – the level of New Zealand Superannuation, aging and perhaps becoming isolated. But on many dimensions they are much like their children and grand children.

<> 

<>If there is any evident social problem this survey points to (other than like many New Zealanders not all seniors have good health practices) it is the Battlers – an eighth of a million of them. As well as being isolated and lonely, nearly two thirds of them say they are not sure who they can trust and over half think things are changing too fast. They are not poor by the standards of New Zealand’s families with children, but they may well be poorer in spirit.

<> 

<>It may be a little comfort to the Minister of Finance that money is unlikely to be the solution to their social isolation. All New Zealanders may need to make an effort to interact with the elderly a bit more, although I cant help thinking that the more convivial retired elderly may also have a major role here.

<> 

<>Like all good research, the survey answers a few questions and raises more. We know a lot more about the over 65s – in a particular they are a diverse lot. The Hope Foundation may want to do more investigation on those who are socially isolated and lonely.