Unemployment: ethnic differences

Having written last Friday on some of the differences in unemployment rates by age cohort, I got curious about the HLFS data broken out by ethnicity.  I’ve never paid much attention to it –  much of the data hasn’t been published for long, and my main interest has always been macroeconomics (the whole economy, rather than specific outcomes for particular subgroups).

But many of the ethnic differences are stark.   Here, I will mostly focus on those between those identifying as European and those identifying as Maori.

Take the headline unemployment rates for example (the longest run of data I could find on Infoshare).

U by eth

or the underutilisation rates

underutil by eth

The European numbers are bad enough –  10.5 per cent of the labour force underutilised –  but the Maori numbers are astonishing.  22.4 per cent of the Maori labour force underutilised is a sad reflection of (probably) a whole series of failures.    Perhaps because the numbers are so large, the gap between the Maori underutilisation rate now and that prior to the recession is visibly stark.

As I illustrated last week, labour market characteristics differ quite a lot by age cohort, and the Maori population is, on average, quite a bit younger than the the European population (both because of higher birth rates and because of lower life expectancy).

But even when one looks by age cohort, the differences between Maori and European outcomes are stark.   Overall labour force participation rate of Maori and Europeans aren’t so very different –  on average over the last three years, 67.2 per cent of working age Maori were in the labour force, and 70.2 per cent of Europeans.   But here are participation rates by age cohort for the two ethnic groups.

partic by age eth

In every cohort, except the 65 plus group, the European labour force participation rate is materially above that for Maori –  on average by almost 10 percentage points.   I’m not sure what to make of the 65 plus group, where Maori and European participation rates are almost equal.   It may be, at least in part, a reflection of greater Maori relative poverty (less success in building up wealth over earlier years).

The picture is even more stark if one looks just at employment rates (given that Maori unemployment rates are higher).

empl rates by age eth

Focusing in on young people, here is what the data show people aged 15 to 24 are doing (again averaged over the last three years).

15 to 24

Interestingly, a slightly larger proportion of the the Maori young population are in education and not simultaneously in the labour force than is the case for young Europeans.     Perhaps the most visible difference on that chart is the first set of bars –  the much larger proportion of European young people simultaneously working and studying than for Maori.      Here is a chart (over the same three years) of that one component for each of the four ethnic groups SNZ reports the results for.

15 to 24 employed

I did notice the difference in the “not in education, not in the labour force –  caregiving” proportions.  Here is that chart for each of the four ethnic groups.

15-24 caregiving

SNZ reports no (statistically significant) numbers of young men in this category.  In other words,  around 11 per cent of young Maori women are engaged in full-time caregiving (presumably mostly for young children), doing no study or even an hour’s paid work (the HLFS criterion) a week.   By contrast no (statistically significant numbers of) young Asian women are.

I’m not going to attempt to hypothesise about why the differences in these various charts (or various others in the data) exist.  But none of the gaps strike me as things simply to be relaxed about.   Says he who is –  contentedly – not in the labour force, not in education, and is caregiving children.

9 thoughts on “Unemployment: ethnic differences

  1. As ever I worry about the meaning of the statistics.

    A Maori acquaintance makes a great effort to avoid admitting he is Maori because he is concerned that his daughter will adopt the Maori habit of leaving school at the earliest opportunity. And another friend in his late fifties who is of South African European ethnicity arrived in NZ as a toddler but he always puts down ‘Maori’ when asked just to screw up the system. And now in my garden a teenage Maori boy is playing. He has the Maori name and looks but was born and lived 80% of his life in Australia with a mother who has no NZ let alone Maori blood; he thinks he is Maori and that is all that matters but really he could choose several ethnic identities. When there are so many exceptions it makes deductions based on ethnic identity fuzzy.

    Another issue is simply how statistics are reported. Take as an example a bar graph showing prison rates by gender – the male bar will be a considerable multiple of the female. Now graph it as ‘NOT in prison’ by gender and you get two bars of similar length. So which graph do you use to decide if men and women have a similar concept of right and wrong?

    Apply the same idea to these graphs of employment and tertiary education and you realise how very similar people are.


    • The classification challenges are one of the reasons I’m a bit surprised there are such large and consistent differences between (self-reporting) ethnicities. they suggest there is something meaningful to them. Having said that, one expert source got in touch to point me to some commentary on classification issues, and I haven’t yet followed that up.

      Take your (general) point in the penultimate paragraph. I’m not sure it is particularly important here tho – eg there are large differences whether one focuses on the employment, participation, or unemployment rate or – for young people – in or out of education.


  2. Delicate subject, but seeing as you have opened the can

    Maori are and largely have always been tribal and non-acquisitive where the tribe met the needs of its people. Even as far back as 1840 the Maori Nation understanding of European Land Title was different. The Maori were not a wealth striving people beyond the immediate needs of the wider tribe

    By opening the immigration to seriously acquisitive Northern Hemisphere peoples, NZ has amplified and intensified and accelerated those differences

    NZ is now beginning to see the Maori nation bred out of existence

    Auckland is the most ethnically diverse region in NZ with 56.5 percent identifying as Europeans, 18.9 percent as Asian, 11.1 percent as Māori and 14.4 percent as Pacifika source :- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_New_Zealand

    Countries such as North America and Australia are breeding their first nations people out of existence
    North America First Nations 4½ million while at any time there are 3 million illegals in USA alone
    Australia First Nations People 450,000 while AU government was allowing 400,000 new arrivals each year (that’s gross not net)


    • Culture does matter when two cultures interact. In the thirties the first explorers in the Highlands of PNG met empty villages where everyone had run away and hidden (not surprising when you realise that even the white fabric of their tents was mindbogglingly astonishing to a people who had never seen anything that was that white or flat). Moving on to another tribal area in the Western Highlands and a young local approached them to negotiate sale of a stone ax.
      Notice how many traders of Indian origin are Gujarati. But there are plenty of Gujaratis who cannot run a business, Welsh who are tone deaf, Kiwis who are scared of rugby, etc. Cultural categories tend to have more exceptions than rules which makes them rather useless. Better to take the religious line that we are all equal in the eyes of God.

      I suspect your second paragraph about the tribal characteristics of Maori could be written for Scottish Highlanders about a generation earlier before the Highland clearances.

      Racially you can do DNA tests but when you let people chose their ethnicity you get interesting results. Is it surprising how many English/Scot marriages only give birth to new Scots? If I had a small fraction of Maori blood I know I would be the proudest Maori you ever met; it is a more romantic connection. Similar to the Aussies who used to hide their deported prisoner origins and are now proud of them.

      The issue should be who is failing to get work on a person by person basis? How can we help them? If an ethnic emphasis helps then use it but only as a tool to achieve employment. Too often a label is assigned and the issue at hand forgotten or sidetracked by sterile discussions of cultural traits.


      • The point I was making is this

        It is a social-crime to operate an uncontrolled system of inbound migrants who are culturally obsessively acquisitive into a country where the indigenous people do not possess those same characteristics or qualities

        I am seeing my Maori cousins being squeezed down into 4th place in the Auckland region, where they numerically represent a contracting proportion of the population but represent an increasing proportion of unemployed, state house occupants, prison inmates, garage-dwellers, car-sleepers, homeless, street-beggars. In much higher percentages than the percentage they comprise of the population

        If you look for it is right there in front of your face

        My Maori cousins are not benefitting from immigration.
        The opposite
        They are being disenfranchised.
        Left behind.


      • The same article with Maori’s removed would still indicate that young Asians are never full time care-givers but 8% of young PI’s are. Both are usually immigrants or children of immigrants.

        We both dislike the increasing polarisation of our society into rich and poor. We both suspect it is exacerbated by low-wage immigration. However it is happening in countries with minimal immigration so there are other factors.


      • Maori numbers are low because Maori have decided Australia is better than NZ with 200,000 Maori calling Australia a better home.

        “At least 200,000 New Zealanders live in Australia today without a social security safety net or direct pathway to citizenship. They are ineligible for unemployment and sickness benefits, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, public housing in most states, federal disaster relief, and – with a new exception for those who arrived as dependent minors and have lived in Australia for a decade – student loans.”


        Liked by 1 person

      • Could not find any reference to Maori ethnicity in that link
        Can you please point to the particular paragraph


      • ‘Paul Hamer is a Kairuruku/Research Associate at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He is an historian who has mainly worked for the Waitangi Tribunal and Te Puni Kōkiri. In recent years he has developed specialist knowledge about the migration of Māori to Australia. He authored a research report on this subject for Te Puni Kōkiri in 2007 after having been a visiting fellow at Griffith University in Brisbane in 2006. He is currently undertaking a PhD at Monash University, investigating the history of Māori inclusion and exclusion across the Tasman since 1793, with particular focus on the impact on Māori of the 2001 Australian law changes.”

        The author writes mainly Maori specific issues.

        “Māori Australians are Australians of Māori heritage. In 2013, there were approximately 140,000-170,000 people with Māori ancestry living in Australia. Māori Australians constitute Australia’s largest Polynesian ethnic group.”



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