Modeling political improvement through statistical analysis of New Zealand’s Youth
Faculty mentor: Steve Thomsen, School of Communications
Some things look better on paper than in person. Prior to my three-month stay in New Zealand, I
wrongly assumed that the country’s history of economic success and involved voters would
translate to somewhere without conflict. What I found is a country riddled with problems.
Statistical analysis of New Zealand’s youth, specifically ages 12-24, revealed primary concerns
that mirror those of the same age in the United States: family, education, employment, drugs,
violence and gangs and decision makers. While many short-term solutions are available to
address these problems, a long-term approach creates a foundation for lasting political
improvement. Dealing with broader issues also helps nip smaller problems in the bud.
Addressing each issue is intended to boost voter confidence and encourage voters to participate
politically in a country that aims to address the issues people deem most important.
Youth surveyed as part of the Northland report, administered by the Ministry of Youth
Development, were asked the top ten things that would make New Zealand a better place to live.
‘Create more jobs’ was the number one answer, with 13.2 percent of students including it in their
list. ‘Address the cost of living’ was second, at 11.2 percent, with ‘provide activities and
facilities for young people’ and ‘address issues related to alcohol abuse’ close behind.
My research revealed five potential long-term solutions for improvement in New Zealand that
could be mirrored in the U.S. and other countries:
1. Establish and/or increasing tax incentives for businesses to move manufacturing to lowincome
2. Institutionalize preschool in low-income areas
3. Institutionalize drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs
4. Mental health awareness and treatment
5. Address implications of social welfare programs
Tax incentives for businesses and institutionalized preschool go hand-in-hand. Encouraging
businesses to move manufacturing to low-income areas creates jobs for those who need them
most. Institutionalized preschool frees up parents, specifically in low-income areas, to work. A
2015 study on child poverty and adult success shows that the long-term success of “ever-poor”
children is related to the amount of time they live in poverty. In areas where getting a babysitter
or sending a child to a private daycare is cost prohibitive, institutionalized preschool encourages
children to thrive in a positive learning environment and advocates parents working to earn a
Alcohol and other drug use ranked first among 21.9 percent of New Zealand youth asked to rank
their number one concern in the country, and 41 percent overall ranking it as a ‘big issue.’
Studies show 60 percent of New Zealand’s youth drink alcohol, while 15 percent use marijuana
and 12 percent use other drugs. The institutionalization of drug and alcohol rehabilitation
programs changes the dialogue about addiction by first addressing there is a problem. These
programs are intended to help youth and adults get back on their feet and accomplish the things
that addiction may be inhibiting.
Mental health awareness and treatment can aid in addressing high suicide rates, especially among
Māori youth. In 2013, the youth suicide rate in New Zealand was 18 deaths per 100,000, with a
marked difference in the number of suicides between Māori and non-Māori youth. Addressing
mental health can contribute to a more positive family environment that, in turn, impacts
education, employment, and alcohol and drug use, all concerns for New Zealand youth.
Social welfare programs need to be addressed as means for progression rather than stagnation.
Government subsidized housing, food stamps and aid for those in need are most beneficial when
coupled with the aforementioned solutions. It can fix the instability that currently contributes to
high rates of violence and gangs, alcoholism and drug use, income disparity and other issues of
concern to New Zealand’s youth.
The concerns of New Zealand’s youth can be addressed by creating a political framework that
addresses long-term issues. Five solutions: tax incentives, institutionalized preschool,
institutionalized drug and alcohol rehabilitation, mental health awareness and treatment, and
addressing the implication of social welfare programs have a trickle-down impact on problem
solving. My trip opened my eyes to changes that will benefit everyone in New Zealand, but
ultimately create a better future for youth.
These same youth are future spouses, parents, consumers and voters – all valuable cogs in a
political clockwork that should aim to address the concerns of its citizens.
1. Ministry of Health. “Suicide Facts: Deaths and intentional self-harm hospitalisations.”
Wellington: Ministry of Health, 2013. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
2. Ministry of Youth Development. “Northland Youth Voices Consultation Report.”
Wellington: Ministry of Youth Development, 2011. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
3. Ratcliffe, Caroline. “Child Poverty and Adult Success.” Urban Institute, Sept. 2015.
Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.