SAYit Blog
Does everyone have the same opportunities to succeed?

Last September, a SAYit survey covering a representative sample of n=1000 New Zealanders aged 18 years or over explored our attitudes towards inequality.  One of the questions looked at whether New Zealanders believed children from low income families have the same opportunities as everyone else.

The actual question was:

Which of these statements best describe your views on whether children from low income families can succeed in New Zealand?:  

A)  Any child born in New Zealand can succeed through education and hard workB)  Those born in lower income families can succeed but have much less chance than those born in better off familiesC) Children from lower income families have very little chance of success 

Overall, 42% of us chose the first option - any child born in New Zealand can succeed.  53% felt that children from lower income families could still succeed but that it was much more difficult, while 5% thought that there was little chance of a child from a low income family being successful.

Of course, that question leaves open to judgment what 'success' actually means, but I imagine most New Zealanders would be picturing a 'successful' person as someone who has a job that they find worthwhile and that pays well enough for them to have a reasonably comfortable life.  I imagine that, in this context, 'successful' does have financial connotations, even though I know that many of us would generally define 'success' much more broadly than that.

When we looked at the results, we thought it would be interesting to compare the responses from 'rich' and 'poor' people.  In a survey like this we can't get an indisputable definition of 'rich' and 'poor' and we can't filter to the 'Top 1%' highlighted in many arguments about indequality (1% of n=1000 is 10 people, which would be far too small for robust analysis). Instead we've simply based our definition of 'rich' and 'poor' on a combination of household income, household size and whether or not you own your home freehold (with the logic being that someone who has a high household income, has only a small number of people in their household and owns their home freehold is generally going to have more money available to them than someone who has a low household income with lots of people in their household and who has to pay a lot of rent or a high mortgage).  

In this case, 'rich' means people with household income over $100,000 per annum, two or fewer people in their household and no dependent children, which comes to 11% of the population.  'Poor' means people with household incomes below $40,000, excluding retired homeowners, and makes up 15% of the population.  While it's an arbitrary distinction, and many other options would have been equally valid, I think the differences are clear.

  • 45% of 'rich' people believe that 'any child in New Zealand can succeed through education and hard work', compared with 36% of 'poor' people.
  • The numbers choosing the middle option ('children from lower income families can succeed but have much less chance') are about even (52% 'rich'; 54% 'poor')
  • 3% of 'rich' people think children from lower income families have very little chance of success, compared with 10% of the 'poor'.

The demographics on this question are pretty even, although Wellingtonians less likely than people in other areas to say that 'any child in New Zealand can succeed through education and hard work' (38% agree with this).  Not surprisingly though, responses to this question are strongly linked to political preferences.

  • 61% of National voters think that 'any child in New Zealand can succeed through education and hard work', compared with 24% of Labour voters and 22% of Green voters.

More results from our special report on Inequality in New Zealand can be found at http://umr.co.nz/updates/inequality-new-zealand-2013.