An examination of the links between parental educational qualifications, family structure and family wellbeing 1981-2006

Publication Details

The primary purpose of this report is to examine and describe the relationship between family structure and family wellbeing and the educational qualifications of parents in New Zealand families over the period 1981–2006.

Author(s): Gerard Cotterell, Martin von Randow and Mark Wheldon, The University of Auckland. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: September 2008

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Executive Summary

The relationship between a person's level of education and the level of income this commands has been well explored in the literature. Less well examined are the links between family structure, the educational attainment of the parents in the family and levels of family wellbeing. This study addresses this gap using a series of family wellbeing indicators derived from data available in the five-yearly census as part of the Family and Whānau Wellbeing Project.

The associations between parents' educational attainment and wellbeing (as measured by median equivalised income, the incidence of low income, unemployment, hours worked and level of home ownership) are described for different family types using information derived from census data for the period 1981–2006. The use of census data allows the impacts of parents' educational attainment to be assessed across time and within family types by each of the wellbeing indicators.
The results confirm the findings of other studies, which show that attainment of secondary and post-secondary educational qualifications commands a 'premium' in the labour market. This study indicates how this 'educational premium' is distributed differently over different family types, and suggests that this premium has increased over the period 1981–2006 for most measures of family wellbeing.


The Family and Whānau Wellbeing Project (FWWP) is funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. Practical support from the Department of Statistics, The University of Auckland, is also gratefully acknowledged.

We are grateful to research team members who assisted with the report preparation including Roy Lay-Yee, Celine Wills, Andrew Sporle, Charles Crothers and the direction and management provided by Peter Davis and Daniel Patrick.

We would also like to thank the staff at Statistics New Zealand who provided advice and our external reviewers, Eve Coxon and James Newell, for their comments. Responsibility for the final product, however, rests solely with the authors.


The views expressed in this occasional paper are the personal views of the authors and should not be taken to represent the views or policy of Statistics New Zealand or the Government. Although all reasonable steps have been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, no responsibility is accepted for the reliance by any person on any information contained in this occasional paper, nor for any error in or omission it.

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