Key Findings

The Growing Up in New Zealand study has given us a vast array of insights into what it means to be a child growing up in 21st Century New Zealand.

Below we’ve summarised some of the key findings from the reports we release every two or three years.

You can take a look at our reports page to read these in more detail and get more context about these findings.

We’re looking forward to learning even more about our Growing Up children over the next decade when we will really get the opportunity to hear the children’s voices, thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Key findings from:

Key findings from Before We Are Born

Our families are increasingly diverse. They are very different from those of previous generations.

We interviewed parents while pregnant and began to see more of this diversity and what it means for the next generation of New Zealand children.

Parental relationships and home environments

  • Mothers and fathers are having children later - the average age is 30.
  • Children live in a range of family structures.  Many are living in extended family environments, or with adults they are not related to.
  • One in three children have at least one parent who did not grow up in New Zealand and who is multilingual.
  • Only one in 20 parents speak Te Reo Māori.

  • 40% of children are born into families living in our most deprived areas.
  • Almost half of all families were living in rental accommodation when their child was born.
  • Families are highly mobile and more than half of families have moved more than twice in the past five years.
  • Both mothers and partners would like to take more leave around the time baby is born.
  • Many parents in the most deprived areas were not aware of government support programmes.
  • The majority of pregnancies were planned (60%).
  • More than half of the children in the cohort have older siblings.
  • Families are more likely to have two or three children rather than 4 or more.

During pregnancy

  • During pregnancy most mothers were able to find a Lead Maternity Carer and few had problems registering with their first choice of maternity carer.
  • Not all mothers follow all the guidelines around pregnancy, especially with respect to food and drink. In particular:
  • More than 90% of mothers made changes to their diet in pregnancy, most frequently avoiding alcohol, caffeine and raw or highly processed foods. However, a considerable number continued to eat these items and consume alcohol in pregnancy.
  • Mothers who reported their pregnancies were unplanned were less likely to take folate in the first trimester than mothers with a planned pregnancy. However, 16% of all mothers did not take folate at any time before or during their pregnancy.
  • Despite a reduction in smoking rates overall during pregnancy, around 10% of mothers continued to smoke.  These mothers were more likely to be Māori and live in the more deprived areas.
  • Mothers who were physically active prior to pregnancy were most likely to continue to exercise throughout pregnancy.  However, mothers who were not physically active prior to pregnancy were unlikely to take up exercise at any time during their pregnancy.

Parental intentions

  • Parental intentions for the ethnic identity of their children were more diverse than the ethnic identities identified by the parents themselves. This largely reflects the mixed ethnicity of the parents and their wishes for their children to identify with all the ethnicities that they identify with.
  • The majority of mothers and partners intended to breastfeed their child until at least six months of age.
  • The majority of mothers and partners intended to fully immunise their child.

Key findings from Now We Are Born 

This report introduced the children in the Growing Up in New Zealand cohort for the first time.

The babies were born between 3 March 2009 and 14 May 2010. More than three-quarters were born in Auckland, Middlemore, or Waikato hospitals. 

The cohort was made up of 6662 singletons, 89 pairs of twins and two sets of triplets. The sex ratio was 52% male and 48% female. 
Nearly one in four (25%) babies were delivered by caesarean section.

Early infant feeding

  • The vast majority of the Growing Up in New Zealand babies were breastfed for at least some time.  
  • The study found exclusive breastfeeding generally stopped at around four months.
  • By nine months of age, the babies had been introduced to a wide range of solid foods, most commonly baby rice, fruit and vegetables. 
  • Plunket was the most commonly reported source of information about infant diet and nutrition for mothers.


  • When their babies were nine months old, 54% of the families were living in their own house, with 39% living in a private rental, and 7% in public rental accommodation.
  • On average, families experienced a drop in income after the birth of baby.
  • An unexpected finding was the nearly one-in-five families were receiving income from four or more sources.

Immunisation and health status

  • Nearly all babies had received their six week (95%) and three month (94%) immunisations. However, coverage dropped to 90% for the five month immunisations.
  • Most mothers reported that their babies were either in excellent or very good health at the age of nine months
  • Almost 91% of the cohort children received all of their Well Child/Tamariki Ora checks in their first nine months.
  • When primary health care was required, most babies were taken to either a single known doctor (67%) or to one of several doctors at one practice (27%).

Parental health status and health-related behaviour

  • Around 11% of mothers had symptoms suggestive of postnatal depression compared to 16% of mothers who had symptoms suggestive of depression in late pregnancy. 
  • Being a young mother or having high levels of financial or relationship stress increased the chances of a mother having poorer mental health postnatally.
  • New Zealand European mothers were more likely to be drinking alcohol than mothers of any other ethnicity.
  • Almost one in three of the cohort children were living in a household where someone smoked cigarettes.

Family stability and family environments

  • Around 90% of children had parents who were in a stable relationship over the past 12 months. 
  • Mothers under the age of 20, those without secondary school qualifications, and those living in the most deprived areas were most likely to have experienced a change in their relationship status. 
  • Around one quarter of the cohort were growing up in an extended family situation and one in 12 children were being brought up by a mother without a current partner.

Parental work and leave

  • More than 80% of mothers in paid employment while pregnant, took some form of leave. The leave taken by mothers was most likely to be a combination of paid parental leave (87%), unpaid parental leave (55%) and annual leave (34%).
  • Around 30% were still on leave when their babies were nine months old.
  • More than 2000 of the mothers had returned to work by the time their children were nine months old, with the majority (83%) returning to work for their previous employer.


  • Returning to work or study was the main reason for cohort children being looked after by someone other than their parents (an average of 20 hours per week) at nine months of age. 
  • Of those in childcare for more than eight hours per week, 40% (685) used an early child care centre such as daycare, Kohanga Reo, or Pacific Islands early childhood centre, 32% were being looked after by their grandparents, and a further 6% were with another relative.

Key findings from Now We Are Two

The personalities and skills of New Zealand two-year-olds

  • One-quarter of the Growing Up in New Zealand children are identified as Māori, 20% as Pacific, and one in 6 as Asian. Multiple ethnicities are also very common (almost half of the children).
  •  Two-thirds of the children knew they were a boy or a girl, and the same proportion used their own name or expressed their independence by typically saying 'do it myself'.
  • Tantrums were the norm for children at two years, with four out of five often expressing themselves this way.
  • Bananas were the most common favourite food; and saying 'mum', 'mummy' or 'mama' was the most common first word.
  • More than 40% (around 2,500) of our children understand two or more languages.
  • Te reo Māori was understood by 12% of children in the cohort.
  • Around 80% of the cohort watched TV or DVDs daily, a greater proportion than the 66% who had books read to them every day. 
  • One in seven had already used a laptop or kids computer system.

Health and safety 

  • 86% of children were described as in very good or excellent health.
  • 92% of children were fully immunised at two years of age.
  • Just under half of the cohort had had an ear infection and 14% a skin infection since they were nine months old; tummy bugs and chest infections were also common at this age.
  • 10% of children had been told by a doctor that they had an allergy of some kind, with egg and dairy being the most common allergens.
  • Working smoke alarms were only present in 79% of the children's homes and 38% of children were living in a house without a fully fenced off driveway.
  • Just under one-third of children had had a significant accident requiring medical help.
  • One-fifth of children had experienced at least one hospital stay by the time they were two years old.


  • 69% were living in a household with two parents present (and no other adults, but possibly other children), and 20% were living in an extended family household (including one or two parents). 
  • Around 6% were living in a household with their parent(s) and non-kin (such as flatmates).  About 5% were living with a single parent (without other adults, but possibly with other children).
  • Of those living with extended family: Approximately 43% were Pacific, 27% Asian, 27% Māori, and 14% were European. 
  • Just over half (55%) of the children lived in family-owned accommodation. The remaining 45% lived in rented accommodation, the majority of which (86%) was private rental accommodation.
  • There were high levels of mobility, with around one-third of families having moved house since their child was nine months. 
  • While they were recruited from the Auckland, Counties Manukau and Waikato District Health Board regions, the Growing Up in New Zealand children are now living from Kaitaia to Bluff, and many overseas.

Employment and childcare 

  • Half of the mums of the Growing Up in New Zealand cohort were not in paid work when their children were two, but almost all of the fathers were in paid work at this stage. On average, the mothers in paid work were working 29 hours per week.
  • More than half of the children were in regular early childhood education and care, predominantly because of the work and study commitments of their parents but also because their parents were interested in the positive impact that this education may have on the social and language development of their children. 
  • 56% of children were being looked after regularly each week by someone other than their parents. This had increased from the 35% of children in regular formal or informal early childhood education and care at nine months of age.
  • The average length of time that two year olds were spending in their main child-care type was 24 hours per week. The average cost of childcare per week was $160 (median $144). A childcare subsidy was knowingly received by 879 families (23% of the families using childcare).

Key findings from Residential Mobility Report 1: Moving house in the first 1000 days

This report highlights the diverse and complex nature of residential mobility in New Zealand.  This report shows that residential mobility is an important feature of life for pre-school New Zealanders and as such it will continue to play an important part in future analyses. 

  • Moving house is a frequent event in the lives of New Zealand families. 
  • Residential mobility during the first two years is associated with parental demographics, employment, housing tenure and structure, and neighbourhood level characteristics for New Zealand children.
  • Families living in private rental accommodation are the most likely to move in this early period of life. Improving the security of housing tenure in New Zealand, particularly in the private rental market, may protect families from undesired moves.
  • In the first 1000 days of life, residential mobility is higher for those cohort children who are first children, and those children who are living in less traditional household structure types (with their parent(s) as well as additional adults such as extended family members or non-kin).
  • Those children who had parents whose partnership ended, or whose households moved to a lower household income were more likely to have moved. 
  • Those children in families who increased their income during the second year of a child’s life, or who had experienced a change in partner status, were more likely to have moved during that time period than those children in families whose household income had not changed.

Key findings from the 'Vulnerability and Resilience' series 

These two reports explored aspects of vulnerability and resilience within the context of our unique population and the New Zealand environment.

  • Risk factors used to define vulnerability tend to cluster in the New Zealand context, notably according to:
    • Maternal characteristics and behaviours
    • Features of the home environment 
    • Pregnancy specific conditions, including poor maternal mental wellbeing and poor physical health in late pregnancy.
  • Clustering of vulnerability risk factors is common, but risk factors do not cluster uniformly across the population. Certain subgroups are more at risk, with marked variation according to maternal ethnicity.
  • Relative exposure to vulnerability can be estimated by summing the total number of risk factors that children are exposed to at any one time point or over time.
  • Māori and Pacific children tend to be exposed to a greater number of risk factors for vulnerability than New Zealand European or Asian children at each time point and across multiple time points.
  • Exposure to multiple risk factors for vulnerability at any one time point increases the likelihood that children will experience poor health outcomes during their first 1000 days of development.
  • Cumulative exposure to multiple risk factors throughout infancy increases the likelihood of experiencing common childhood infections such as ear infections as well as more serious respiratory illnesses requiring hospitalisation.
  • Not all children who are exposed to risk factors for vulnerability experience specific poor health outcomes, although they are at increased risk compared with those experiencing few or no risks.
  • Children who are exposed to no or few risk factors for vulnerability may also experience poor health outcomes during their early years.
  • Identification of solutions to reduce the effects of early exposure to risk factors for vulnerability is likely to require cross-agency interventions as risk factors tend to cluster and exist across multiple domains.
  • At an individual level exposure to risk factors for vulnerability during early life is not necessarily constant, and exposure profiles may change significantly over time.

Now We are Four:  Describing the Pre-School Years 

This report provided insight into the health, wellbeing, social and emotional status of New Zealand four-year-olds.  It also looked at changes in the children’s home environment, participation in early childhood education, household mobility, socio-economic situation.

  • Fourteen percent of the cohort meet the criteria for being overweight or obese at the age of four years.
  • The majority of children complied with current Ministry of Health guidelines related to hours of sleep at night.
  • More than 10% of the children were not enrolled in the free dental service at four and a half years of age.
  • More than one in eight children had never been to see either a school dental therapist, or a
    dentist by age four. This rate was higher at one in five for Māori and Pacific children.
  • Approximately four out of five cohort children were regular media users, with the average
    time “on screen” for four year olds being just greater than two hours per day.
  • Children who were overweight or obese engaged in more screen time than children of
    normal weight.
  • Bullying behaviour starts early and for around one in ten children experienced being bullied or picked on consistently since they were two years old.
  • Growing Up in New Zealand’s household structure data continue to reflect a diversity of
    family and household living arrangements.
  • Fewer children were living in an extended family household and more children were living
    in a single parent household at four years than at two years of age.
  • Parents reported they always or very often express affection for their child (99% of mothers).
  • However, one in 12 parents reported that they regularly struggle with knowing how to discipline their  child.
  • Two thirds of mothers reported that they never use physical punishment.
  • One in ten parents reported that they frequently managed their child’s misbehaviour by smacking.
  • A small group of the children (3%) regularly witness arguments between their parents, including episodes involving physical violence.
  • By age four, almost all children receiving non-parental care are attending an ECE centre or
    organised home-based care (94%). This engagement (measured in 2013 and 2014) is slightly
    below the current Government target of 98% of preschoolers.
  • Nine out of ten mothers were confident that their child would be socially ready to transition
    to formal schooling.
  • Six out of ten mothers reported that they felt confident that their child had the reading and
    writing skills needed to start school.
  • Two thirds of mothers were in paid work when their children were four years old, up from  approximately half of mothers when the children were two.
  • One in five households that were not receiving income in the form of wages, salary or
    business income were experiencing five or more hardships.
  • In terms of debt and savings, one in three mothers had a student loan and six in
    ten mothers had a KiwiSaver account.
  • Six in ten children (3652) had their own bank account.

Who Are Today's Dads?

This report provides an overview of more than 4,000 fathers, stepfathers, adoptive and foster parents, co-mums, grandparents and other family members who are “dads” to Growing Up in New Zealand children.

  • 95% work full time (more than 30 hours a week), while 63% work more than 40 hours a week.
  • 47% report that it is often possible for them to have flexible work hours and 32% work at the weekend.
  • 6% have more than one paid job (up to 9 jobs).
  • Participants work an average of 47 hours a week
  • 91% are satisfied with their (main) job and 90% feel secure in their present job arrangement(s).
  • 75% of participants want to be able to change some aspect of their work situation, either working fewer hours, working from or closer to home, or working more flexible hours.
  • 61% of employed participants say their work has a positive effect on their child and family life generally.
  • 56% say that working makes them a better parent.
  • 50% say that because of the requirements of their job, they miss out on home or family activities they would prefer to participate in. 
  • 36% say that their work leaves them with too little time or energy to be the kind of parent to want to be.
  • 1 in 7 participants has had a mental health problem diagnosed and/or treated at some time in their life.
  • 1 in 25 participants reports that they have had more than one type of mental health problem at some time (though not necessarily at the same time).
  • Eight out of ten participants who have had mental health problems say that they are in good health.
  • A substantial number are at risk of future cardiovascular diseases (CVD): heart or blood vessel diseases or stroke.
  • 39% of participants experience some problems or stresses in their lives. 
  • 43% say they sometimes feel they need support or help but can’t get it from anyone. 
  • 54% are coping with life very well. 
  • Nearly half (47%) of participants say that the way they are feeling sometimes affects their ability to parent their child. 
  • Most participants (86%) often support their child’s feelings and emotions. 

Transition to School 

This report focuses on children’s experience of embarking on formal schooling.

  • 98% had completed a B4 School check by the time they were at school
  • 98% had attended Early Childhood Education in the six months before starting school
  • 97% of mothers had actively engaged in school transition activities with their child, e.g. school visits
  • 76% felt their child was ready for school, 68% said their child was happy to go to school and 64% said their child was excited about going to school.
  • The most common sources of advice for parents choosing a school were trusted friends and the school prospectus or website.
  • 96% of mothers rated educational resources as the most important factor for choosing a school, followed by a ‘good reputation’ (92%).
  • “Fitting in socially” and “making friends” were mothers' main concerns for their children starting school. 
  • It took most children less than a month to adjust to school. 
  • 70% of mothers and 72% of children had no diffculty when starting school.
  • More than 2/3 were satisfied the current school was meeting their child’s needs across key areas
  • 51% had experienced the Milk for Schools programme and 10% of children had experienced a breakfast club
  • 99% were attending primary school by age six.
  • 85% were attending a state primary school and 26% had experienced a Modern
    Learning Environment in their first year at school.
  • 10% were in classes of 15 children or less and around 6% in classes of 30+ students. The most common class size was 20-25 children. 
  • 12% had moved school at least once before they were six. 25% of mothers also reported their child had had at least one change in classroom teacher. 
  • 24% attended after school care, 8% attended before school care. 
  • More than 3/4 lived within five kilometres of their school but only a quarter of children used active forms of transport such as walking, biking or scootering. 68% travelled to/from school by car.
  • 20% of mothers were still experiencing diffculties more than six months after their children started school