Just Another Day in Socially Progressive NZ – Inequality forces many to leave


Inequality rather than wage differences is causing Kiwis to leave NZ

A few days ago New Zealand went from zero to hero when it surprisingly jumped to the top of an index it had never previously appeared on. The Social Progress Imperative  ranked New Zealand first in its social progress index.

Before you emigrate or invest in New Zealand, because you’re one of those people that want to accept these indexes at face value, we’d like to draw your attention to an article in the NZ Herald newspaper by Alan Gamlen: “Inequality drives many to quit NZ: To be worse off among peers at home hurts more than being worse off abroad.” As you can see there is not much sign of social progress towards equality in New Zealand, otherwise why do so many leave? Over a quarter of the country’s population lives abroad, most of them in Australia.

Emigration is driven not only by opportunities, but also by inequalities. The OECD has issued alarming advice for governments to take “urgent action to tackle rising inequality and social divisions”. New Zealand has left these issues unaddressed for too long, and we need to acknowledge it is one of the reasons why our people keep leaving…

Why are people leaving? At least since the 1980s, the conventional wisdom has been that, despite heroic government efforts, we can do little to stop higher wages and better weather pulling opportunistic New Zealanders across the Tasman.

But this explanation ignores the fact that emigration is driven not only by opportunities for enrichment but also by inequalities and exploitation

In recent years, international migration research had relied less on classical ideas about foreign wage levels, and more on the “new economics of labour migration”. According to this school of thought, migration is driven not by wage differences between origin and destination countries, but by “relative deprivation“.

In other words, being worse off than one’s peers at home hurts more than being worse off than strangers living abroad. Rather than just inequalities between countries, current theory says, migration is also driven by inequalities within origin countries.

Migrants may not have perfect information about wages in a far-off region or about the costs of getting there. But they can and do respond to an acute awareness of their place in the pecking order at home.

If they are poor enough to feel excluded from their own society, but not too poor to escape, they will try to do so.

Inequality in New Zealand has widened markedly since the 1980s, and in addition to a much-lamented “underclass” of unskilled New Zealanders without employment prospects, we have also seen the emergence of a “squeezed middle” of educated but debt-ridden people nearing middle-age, for whom there are no jobs worthy of their costly skills, and who feel no hope of ever affording their own homes

If inequality matters as an emigration driver, why do we only hear about higher overseas wages? One reason is political. Opposition parties score points by blaming incumbent governments for emigration, while governments blame emigration on inherited long-term problems, like wage differences.

This is a set game rigged to end in stalemate. What the public sees as a pitched political battle over emigration is often more of a ritualised bloodsport. Politicians have even taken to simply recycling each other’s stunts – such as being photographed with an empty stadium symbolising the impact of emigration.

This game obscures the bigger picture that emigration matters, both because we are “losing” people, and because the “lost” people are participating in our society to an extent that was not possible a generation ago. The recent founding of a New Zealand Expatriate political party is only one sign of this…” read the full article here

Dr Alan Gamlen is a senior lecturer at New Zealand’s Victoria University and research associate at Oxford University. He is editor-in-chief of the journal Migration Studies published by Oxford University Press.


11 thoughts on “Just Another Day in Socially Progressive NZ – Inequality forces many to leave

  1. There’s always a person who says “There’s no article with numbers, saying 1 million kiwis live overseas, that I can trust”.
    For those people, this is for you (hint: from a New Zealand newspaper):
    Flight of the Kiwis
    MATT PHILP Last updated 05:00 13/02/2013
    They’re leaving. We are leaving. The great New Zealand diaspora, per capita the world’s largest, has passed the million mark — meaning 1 million Kiwis now live overseas, forging careers, having families, making their mark thousands of kilometres away. Australia is now home to half, with the diaspora’s focus narrowing as its scale grows.

    Those nearly half a million Kiwis who have set up in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and, increasingly, in mineral rich Perth, represent a critical mass of growing magnetic force. “It becomes self-perpetuating,” says Massey University sociologist, professor Paul Spoonley of the drift across the ditch. “Once you have family or friends over there the incentives to go, quite apart from the economic ones, are significant.”

  2. Comments from that article are closed, but what I find interesting is the input of migrants, e.g. this one:
    This is bound to happen. It’s not that I don’t like New Zealand but the opportunities are few. Even after 4 years of graduation, I am still hunting for a decent entry level job in my field (IT). At this stage, I do not get a job in IT, as I do not have any industry experience in the field. I do not get a job as a Graduate/Junior level as I am not a fresh graduate. This is quite frustrating.
    Arul – New Zealand – 09:17 AM Wednesday, 9 Apr 2014


    He’s too diplomatic to say it’s racism. But I can tell you of a graduate who took 6 years to finish a 3 year degree … hired by Centrix!

    • Arul did have a follow up to the critics, which had no response. So he’s obviously on to something:

      “This is bound to happen. It’s not that I don’t like New Zealand but the opportunities are few. Even after 4 years of graduation, I am still hunting for a decent entry level job in my field (IT). At this stage, I do not get a job in IT, as I do not have any industry experience in the field. I do not get a job as a Graduate/Junior level as I am not a fresh graduate. This is quite frustrating.”

      “”decent entry level job” what do you reckon “decent” is and why not take one less “decent” so that you get the required experience to move onwards and upwards? thats what people usually do.”

      That is how I started my career; to gain some IT experience I compromised and started off with “less decent” job. During the last 4 years I gained 2 different IT certifications with A+ grades, but I am still hunting for basic junior/entry level job, forget about a decent job.
      Arul – New Zealand – 03:29 PM Wednesday, 9 Apr 2014

      Work hard and you will succeed? Maybe if your face fits …

  3. The fact that New Zealand scored above all of the Scandinavian countries should tell any moron that there’s something dreadfully, dreadfully wrong with the methodology used to compile this list. How can a country rank number 1 with rampant child poverty? How is that even possible?

    Interesting story: I just returned from my very very wonderful Kiwi doctor. He’s one of the sane, perfectly pleasant Old Guard Kiwis (graduated from med school in 1958!!!) and he was grumbling about what garbage that list is. When he began practicing medicine, he would have underwritten such a list as accurate. And I think I would tend to agree — NZ was really a very socially progressive place way back when, relative to the rest of the world. He was shocked and appalled when he found out I have lived here, worked here, paid taxes here for six years and am still ineligible for government-sponsored health care. When I went to settle the bill, he came out front and said “No, don’t charge him. I’m a legitimately socially progressive New Zealander who appreciates his contributions as an immigrant.”

    Folks, seriously, if you can find some Old Guard Kiwis, they’re really quite refreshing.

    • “NZ was really a very socially progressive place way back when, relative to the rest of the world.”

      Yes, together with the Scandinavian nations NZ was one of the world’s ‘model nations’ and in the first 3 or 4 measured by per capita GDP. I remember a conversation with a Brit who had looked at the very favourable NZ statistics in the 1970s and migrated to the country just in time to experience the start of the long decline. He now lives here in Australia.

      My guess is that there are two causes for the country’s decline, (1) the UK joined Europe which negatively affected the NZ economy and (2) the “Rogernomics” of the 1980s which probably shattered the existing social compact.

    • Isn’t child poverty a bit of a misleading description in the first place? Children, by their very nature are dependants, they don’t make any money, how then can they be either rich or poor? If they are living in poverty, isn’t this is an indication of their CAREGIVER’S financial status, not the child’s? Poor caregivers are what really cause a child to live in poverty. Therefore the problem isn’t really child poverty, it is ADULT poverty. If the problem with adult poverty is fixed, the problem with child poverty is also fixed.

      Putting the focus only on children living in poverty takes the focus away from the real issue, which is that a large percentage of ADULTS are living in poverty in New Zealand, and that large numbers of children are suffering as a result.

  4. This is spot on, people DO leave because of unequal treatment in New Zealand, whether they are a migrant to the country or born there. But, there is one aspect to this which is routinely ignored, probably because it is almost considered taboo in our “modern” society to talk about: substantially more men are leaving New Zealand to live permanently overseas than women. Not only does New Zealand have a “brain drain” it also has a “man drain”. With people leaving because of unequal treatment, what does this say about the state of ‘equality’ between the genders, and which gender New Zealand is failing the most?

  5. I do not know if many people are aware of this, but Statistics New Zealand awards cash prizes to media reporters every year. For “best” use of its statistics in a story. Consider too the publicity that comes of that “best use” for the reporters who win the prizes. This policy demonstrates, among other things, the incestuous relationship between the government and private interests which has been observed before on this site and on Expatexposed. The New Zealand media colludes. It helps boost New Zealand’s reputation and suppress real life problems there in a way that the media in other countries does not do. This unethical practice does a lot to mislead foreigners about the conditions in New Zealand.

  6. I hope Dr Gamlen is a reader of e2nz.org. He might want to research the numbers of skilled immigrants into New Zealand who leave to return to their country of emigration before the expiry of 10 years. If ‘inequality’ was the driver for their original migration what is it about socially progressive New Zealand that makes it preferential for them to return to that inequality? Dr Gamlen might extract a few indicators from reading Retardicon 6 Part 1 and other migrant tales on this site. To X and Y, who have just escaped the clutches of the Gisborne mafia, welcome home guys.

    • the fact of selective reporting of their statistics (massaging) gives New Zealand a leg up on some of these phony lifestyle indexes. there has never been a worse misrepresentation of a place ever in the history of nation branding.

  7. Admin,

    Very interesting article that’s however, stating the obvious. Given the current dominant ‘small government’, de-regulation ideology, even in centre-left parties, there’s not much cause for optimism that the situation will change in the short term.

    The advantage of small populations is that equality and social cohesion should be easier to achieve, small developed countries with high degrees of equality also often have high per capita GDPs (e.g. Scandinavia). The Kiwis appear to have wasted their social capital.

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