Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley says there hasn’t been a strategic government population policy since the 1970s and, since that time, New Zealand has undergone dramatic demographic change with an ageing population, falling birth rates and rapidly increasing immigration.
As part of a series of forums on the implications of New Zealand’s latest population trends hosted by Massey University and Westpac, Professor Spoonley wrote about the new New Zealand about to emerge. Here is the final chapter of his findings courtesy of Massey University and the New Zealand Herald.
Attitudes to diversity
The discussions with households in all five regions produced a common pattern – although there were differences in how strongly people felt about some issues.
There was a group that embraced the new diversity of New Zealand and saw it as transforming the country in positive ways. Not only were they positive about the changes, they wanted to experience and be part of that diversity.
A second group agreed that diversity was beneficial to the country – and their region – but did not see diversity as personally important.
And then there was a group that were resistant to diversity for a number of reasons – it meant changes, many of which were negative, it increased the demand for services and English language proficiency was mentioned as a particular concern. While these households felt that ethnic diversity was an unwelcome development, they did acknowledge that diversity had certain economic benefits.
Immigration and employment
Employers, no matter what region, tended to fall into two camps – those that had no immigrant employees and those who saw immigrant workers as key part of their current and future workforce.
The former mentioned that they had enough New Zealand candidates to choose from when recruiting and they cited language difficulties and the need for local knowledge.
The latter group still acknowledged that there were challenges, including English language competency and visa issues. But these employers, who were particularly noticeable in Auckland, also saw some distinct benefits from workplace diversity, including the presence of different perspectives (that included the benefits of language diversity) and that immigrants provided an educated and trained workforce. As a result, they were largely positive about the growing diversity of the New Zealand workforce.
In terms of the future, employers tended to see the cost of living, and especially housing affordability in Auckland, along with the lack of skilled workers as key challenges. In regions outside Auckland, employers often mentioned the ageing of the population as an additional concern.
The next generation
The interviews with Year 13 students revealed considerable differences of opinion about diversity, depending on region or even location within a city. For example, South Auckland students saw diversity as primarily involving Maori and Pasifika but, on the North Shore, it tended to involve more recent immigrants, ranging from South Africans to various Asian communities.
What was obvious amongst all the students was how they saw diversity as part of their lives in a contemporary New Zealand. This did not mean that they were always positive about aspects of this diversity. Wellington students mentioned that they thought Maori got preferential treatment, others noted that ethnic groups often stayed apart at school and there was some resistance to being known by your ethnic group.
But these concerns were relatively minor compared to the fact that younger New Zealanders were generally positive about the diversity they encountered in their school or community and saw it as part of the new New Zealand. They were often empathetic to the challenges faced by recent immigrants and were critical of racism. They noted that while their attitudes were positive, their parents and grandparents attitudes were not nearly as positive.
The data suggests this is a cross-over generation who are experiencing diversity in their schools and see this as an inevitable part of a future New Zealand.
Courtesy of Massey University and the New Zealand Herald
Distinguished Professor Spoonley is one of New Zealand's leading academics and a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
He has led numerous externally funded research programmes, written or edited 25 books, and is a regular commentator in the news media.
He was awarded the Royal Society of New Zealand Science and Technology medal in 2009 in recognition of his academic scholarship, leadership and public contribution to cultural understanding and in 2011, his contribution to Sociology was acknowledged with the Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand's scholarship for exceptional service to New Zealand sociology.
In 2013, he was given the title of Distinguished Professor, Massey University's highest academic title.