One step closer to unravelling child poverty

More than half of New Zealand mothers experience some level of hardship between late pregnancy and when their child is 9 months old and many parents have to cope with a drop in family income after having children.

The results in brief

  • Family income: It was common for families in the study (cohort) to experience a drop in income in the immediate period after their child’s birth. By the time the children were two years of age the distribution of household income had shifted back in the direction of the pre-pregnancy household income distribution, although not completely back to pre-pregnancy levels
    • Most families were reliant on multiple income sources during the first two years of their children’s lives.
    • The overall proportion of households receiving an income tested benefit was similar when the children were nine months and two years old, but there had been a significant shift in which families received a benefit.
  • Economic Hardship:
    • In the time between late pregnancy and the baby reaching 9 months of age, 56% of families reported experiencing indicators of hardship: 29% reported one hardship, 13% reported two and 14% reported three or more.
    • Half of all families reported they have been forced to buy cheaper food so they could pay for other things they needed; 18% reported putting up with feeling cold to save heating costs; 13% had made use of food grants or food banks because of money shortages and 13% had gone without fresh fruit or vegetables often in order to pay for other things.
  • Social service access: Within the study, 6% of the families stated they were in contact with social service agencies or support services, such as Whānau Ora and Child Youth and Family, in the first 1000 days of their child’s life. 10% were in contact with two services and 5% were in contact with three or more.
  • Moving House: Nearly one in two families (45%) had moved house at least once between late pregnancy and when the child was two years of age.
  • Household structure: Approximately 11% of the children had experienced at least one change in household structure between the age of nine months and two years.
  • Early childhood education: At two years of age, 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.

More than half of New Zealand mothers experience some level of hardship between late pregnancy and when their child is 9 months old and many parents have to cope with a drop in family income after having children.

These are two of the results from a new policy brief by child development study Growing Up in New Zealand which follows the lives of almost 7000 children from before birth into adulthood.

The brief provides a snapshot on the economic, physical, social, and human resources available to New Zealand children in their first two years of life, and explains how these inter-related measures can be used to provide population-relevant and context-specific insights into developing innovative solutions to reduce child poverty.

The information comes in the week leading up to Children’s Day on 1 March which will be celebrated under the theme ‘Treasure our Children’.

Growing Up in New Zealand research director, Associate Professor Susan Morton explains: “The relationship between child poverty and how it affects child outcomes is complex. Yet in the public debate child poverty and vulnerability are often used synonymously with low family income, without taking other factors into account that influence a child’s development and wellbeing and a family’s capacity to provide a supportive environment for their children.”

“To ensure each child achieves her or his full potential and participates as an equal member in society, regular access to good healthcare, education, permanent and safe housing as well as quality family relationships and support are as important as financial wellbeing.”

The information provided by Growing Up in New Zealand goes much further than just measuring a family’s household income or the deprivation area a family is living in. It captures longitudinal information on physical, social and human as well as economic capitals available to our children that collectively contribute to family’s capacity to support their child’s early development and wellbeing.

“Examining what contributes to transitions in and out of vulnerability is key to finding new solutions to child poverty. Also understanding why some children from families who experience hardship do well while others don’t will provide new information about how to support resilience in the face of challenge,” says Dr Morton.

Download the policy brief

Policy Brief 3: Measuring the Economic Environment - What resources are available to children in their first 1000 days? (PDF)

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