The report 'Living Standards and Health: New Zealand 2006/07' compares two measures of living standards that were included in the 2006/07 New Zealand Health Survey, and investigates the associations between living standards and health.
Living standards are a direct measure of an individual's of family's actual consumption of goods and services that are essential for wellbeing. Many factors influence an individual's living standards, including income, assets, non-income contributions, special demands on income, adverse life events, and human and social capital.
The 2006/07 New Zealand Health Survey included two measures of living standards: the New Zealand Individual Index of Deprivation (NZiDep), developed by the University of Otago, Wellington; and the Economic Living Standards Index - short form (ELSI), developed by the Ministry of Social Development. Both measures were found to perform well in the survey.
This study found that most New Zealanders enjoyed good living standards. However, young adults and people of Pacific or Māori ethnicity were more likely to experience poor living standards.
The study also found that living standards were significantly associated with health outcomes, health risk behaviours and health service use. There were particularly strong associations between living standards and psychological distress, as well as between living standards and unmet need for a general practitioner in the past year. However, it should be noted that these associations between living standards and health were not necessarily causal, as poor living standards can cause poor health, and poor health can also negatively affect living standards. This study also showed that living standards act on health independently of income, as well as partially mediating the effect of income.
This study has some potential implications for policy. Findings from this study suggest that living standards contribute to health, independently of income (or other measures of socioeconomic position). This study also suggests (but does not prove) that policies that provide non-monetary social assistance to improve living standards - such as subsidised home insulation, health care and child care - could usefully complement income redistribution policies, in order to improve health outcomes overall and also achieve gains in health equity.