Health, income and education: How NZ stacks up

by Karl du Fresne / 25 January, 2014
NZ may be the "rock-star economy" of the moment, but how do we compare in other areas that matter?
These are some of the findings of a Listener trawl through a variety of international surveys that seek to measure countries’ prosperity, freedom, well-being and quality of life.


In its most recent Better Life Index, the OECD rated New Zealand 11th overall for the quality of its education. Though ranked only 24th out of 36 countries for educational attainment (the percentage of people aged 25-64 who have successfully completed high school), we were 11th for the average duration of our formal education (18 years, higher than the OECD average) and fifth for student skills in maths, reading and science, as measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) in 2009. Since then the latest Pisa results have been released, showing New Zealand has slipped in all three subjects, although we’re still comfortably above the OECD average – sixth in reading, seventh in science and 16th in maths.


A roll of drums, please. The OECD says we’re the healthiest of 36 countries surveyed, ahead of Australia, Switzerland and Canada. Asked “How is your health in general?”, 89% of New Zealanders describe themselves as being in good health – a much higher figure than the OECD average of 69%. (The OECD comments: “Despite the subjective nature of this question, answers have been found to be a good predictor of people’s future healthcare use.”) Our life expectancy (81 years) is slightly higher than average, as is health spending (an estimated 10.1% of GDP compared with an average of 9.5%). But on the debit side of the ledger, New Zealand falls below the OECD average for the number of hospital beds and practising physicians per 1000 population.


If you want to get rich, try somewhere else. At 20th, New Zealand is in the lower half of the OECD income table, which is headed by the US, Switzerland and Luxembourg. Our average annual household net-adjusted disposable income is US$21,892, a bit less than the OECD average of US$23,047. Italy, Australia and Ireland are all ahead of us. The picture is no brighter when it comes to average household net financial wealth: US$33,421 in New Zealand compared with the OECD average of US$40,516, although that figure doesn’t take into account assets such as land and dwellings. Brazil, Estonia and Mexico are the wooden-spooners in the OECD income rankings.

To read how New Zealand measures up in 40 important areas, see this week's Listener cover story: Our place in the worldSubscriber contentIcon definitionSubscriber content

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