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Study: Almost All Kiwi Parents Facing Financial Stress

18 Sep 2023

A young lady breaths through her nose outside after learning how to calm an overactive sympathetic nervous system
  • 93% of households face financial stressors
  • Almost half (49%) of all parents’ surveyed said financial uncertainty is main source of household stress (up from 41% in 2022, 35% in 2021)
  • Cost of living is the top concern parents have for their kids’ future (66%)
  • Over half of families are eating less or differently due to cost of living

More parents report facing financial stress with almost half responding in a nib survey that financial uncertainty is their main source of household stress (49%), up from 35% two years ago.

Just under 70% of parents surveyed in the fifth annual nib State of the Nation Parenting Survey said that the cost of living has impacted the way they raise their children. Balancing work and parenting (44%), and inflation impacting the ability to manage debt and mortgage repayments (39%) were all sources of household stress after financial uncertainty.

Parents also said that the cost of living is the top concern they have about their children’s future. One mother said: “[The biggest concerns for my child’s future is whether] … they will be able to afford university, healthcare and a house. That they don’t struggle to make ends meet. That they are healthy and happy and don’t have to compromise their morals or health to afford a comfortable life.”

Since nib last surveyed Kiwi parents, the country has grappled with inflation rates (currently 6%) and seen the OCR reach the highest it had been in fourteen years (4.75%). Meanwhile annual food prices skyrocketed by 9.6% compared to the year before, and unemployment rose from 3.3% to 3.6% (June 2022 - June 2023).

As was the case last year, parents continue to have to make hard choices such as going without some essentials like petrol, heating or even skipping meals (19%). This is even worse for Māori parents, affecting 26% - up a staggering 13% from last year.

Families changing eating habits as financial pressures rise

When it comes to food choices, 52% of parents say they are eating less or differently, but this was much higher for Māori at 64%. About a quarter of parents say they are keeping grocery spend the same but eating less (23%; 28% for Māori) and sadly, the cost of living is also driving people to choose less fresh and whole foods - 51% said they were eating less fresh vegetables, and 40% said they were eating more processed foods.

This comment from a mother of young children reflects the trend: “Affordable groceries: I wish I could shop for everything I need to have, the amount of fruit and vegetables I want. I am going back to work and putting my baby into care which will be very expensive.” - Female, NZ European, 40-44, mainly pre-school age children.

Rob Hennin, nib New Zealand, Chief Executive Officer, says the pressure on parents is coming from all angles and it’s becoming harder to prioritise the health and wellbeing of the whole family.

“Times are tough and many Kiwi households are making changes to their lifestyle and the way they raise their families just to get by,” Mr Henin said.

“For some this has meant making sacrifices so that their kids' health and wellbeing comes before everything else. One thing that comes through loud and clear is that Kiwi parents want the best for their kids and their families, and they are doing the best they can under difficult circumstances” he said.

Financial pressure impacting relationships

Increasing costs are impacting family life too, with parents reporting a negative impact on their relationship with their partner (31%), their social lives and connection to friends (42%) and the amount of time spent with their children (25%).

Nathan Wallis, nib’s resident parenting expert and neuroscience educator says that in times of stress it’s important that parents plan so they can create time for themselves, family fun and connection.

“Parents are under increasing financial pressure and many feel like they don’t have the time, energy or resources to care for their kids and look after themselves but it’s really important that parents find ways to look after their own wellbeing”.

“It might be as simple as taking a walk to connect with nature, calling a friend for a quick catch up or having a relaxing bath after the kids have gone to bed. By regularly taking time for yourself and your relationship with your partner, friends and family you’ll be better able to show up for your kids,” said Wallis.

Some parents delaying having more children

Many Kiwi households have been tightening their belts for some time. There is also a clear indication that the cost-of-living crisis is affecting decisions around whether parents have more children. About 14% of families are making the tough decision to delay having more children and in 13% of families, the main caregiver is returning to work.

This is concerning because it comes at a time when New Zealand birth rates have dropped below replacement rates. Stats NZ reports that the birth rate was 1.65 births per woman at the year ended March 2023, down from 1.69 in the previous year, and well below the replacement rate of 2.1 reported in 2022 - the average number of children each woman must have for a population to replace itself over the long term.

“I feel for families that are delaying having kids or parents who need to return to work just to get by,” Mr Wallis said. “It is a tough time for parents and while almost all parents are facing financial stress right now, the vast majority can provide the essentials and are doing their best”.

“There's no such thing as the perfect parent, but the good news is that being good enough is great. So go easy on yourself. You're doing the best you can, and I'm sure you're doing a wonderful job,” Mr Wallis said.

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