New Zealand Culture

Family

Family structures, customs and dynamics vary between ethnic groups. However, family remains central to nurturing a person’s potential and individuality and providing emotional/financial support. In particular, families in New Zealand often view it as a responsibility to pass down cultural knowledge and values to the next generation.

The average New Zealand family is a nuclear family with their extended family living separately. However, today the archetypical family (husband, wife and children) can no longer be an exact social expectation. Due to widespread divorce and remarriage, many families include step-parents and step-siblings. Also, as the stigma associated with premarital intercourse has diminished, the number of unwed mothers has increased.

As people are tending to wait until later in life to start a family, the average ages at which major life-events occur (e.g. marriage, children, retirement) are rising. This reflects the growing individualist orientation of both men and women – particularly of European descent – to want to establish a career for themselves and travel before starting a family. Women tend to be much older when they have their first child than previous generations, the average age being 28. As a result of this older age of conception, in vitro fertilisation (IVF) is becoming more common. Families are also getting smaller as parents choose to have fewer children. This relieves financial stress and also allows more mobility as half of New Zealand’s residents move at last once every 5 years. On the other hand, Māori families tend to have more children and are the fastest growing ethnic population. It has become more common for children across New Zealand to continue living with their parents past the age of legal independence.

Gender does not necessarily dictate a person’s role or duty in the family; women enjoy equal rights and the opportunity to choose their form of contribution to the household dynamic. However, more women tend to have interrupted careers in order to be available to raise their children. Less than half of mothers with dependant children work full-time, while roughly 60% are either unemployed or working part-time. 

Māori Families

In traditional Māori culture, family is called whānau. This term conceptualises the family to include all extended family through blood ties and in-laws. Family plays an arguably more central role in Māori life than it does for New Zealanders of non-indigenous descent. Māori tradition links individuals and families intricately with the land and each other. They often gather for informal/formal occasions. Extensive kinship ties provide an environment within which certain responsibilities and obligations are maintained. When living in Australia, Māori tend to adopt other Māori who are not directly related to become ‘one big family’ and continue their culture of kinship

 

It is widely believed that men and women’s roles were both equally valued and respected in traditional Māori society. Perhaps the most powerful indication of this lies in Māori language, as both the personal pronouns (ia) and the possessive personal pronouns (tana/tona) are gender-neutral.1 However, a gender hierarchy emerged following colonisation, with men gaining more influence and respect in the household and society. Today, patriarchal authority in the household tends to be a continued norm. Nonetheless, Māori women hold important and leading roles in community and family structures. 


Elders are to be treated with great courtesy and respect in Māori culture. Meanwhile, children are not just the concern of the biological parents but the entire community. Everyone shares the responsibility of raising, caring for, educating and disciplining children regardless of gender or age. However, this cultural tenet is much harder to maintain in diverse modern cities.

 

Whāngai is the custom in Māori culture by which children may be raised by adults who are not their birth parents. This second set of parents may be related to the child (e.g. grandparents) but not necessarily. Whāngai commonly occurs if birth parents cannot adequately raise their child for various reasons. In some cases, the birth parents and second set of parents may take turns raising the child. Traditionally, the custom of Whāngai would strengthen cultural community ties, and also provide people who were unable to give birth the opportunity to have a child.


Dating and Marriage
It is socially acceptable for both men and women to ask each other out on a date. Dates usually happen in contexts that allow the couple to engage in enough conversation to get to know one another (for example, over a meal or drink). It is common for a New Zealander to ‘date’ or get to know multiple people at once over a period of time without having an exclusive relationship with any of those people. If feelings develop for a particular person, they usually stop meeting new dates or seeing others. Instead they usually pursue that one person until he or she agrees to be in a committed relationship with them or indicates a lack of interest. It is common for couples to meet through their social circles, workplaces or hobbies. Online dating services are popular amongst several age groups.

It appears same-sex relationships were always acceptable in pre-European Māori culture. The Christianisation of New Zealand seems to have introduced a stigma. Nevertheless, same-sex marriage is legal in the country. The increasing incorporation of LGBTQI+ relationships means same-sex couples with children are becoming more common.

While unmarried cohabitation and divorce have increased, New Zealanders remain committed and dedicated to partnership. Emphasis is placed on a couple’s intimate love for one another, rather than the social expectations of a marriage contract. The average New Zealand couple will be in a relationship for multiple years and live together before getting married. This varies significantly among individual circumstances and family backgrounds. Though many marriages end in divorce, the institution of marriage is still dominant and highly valued. It is expected in society that any strong couple will want to ‘take that step’. Yet, more couples (both same-sex and straight) are choosing not to marry and remain in a de facto partnership whilst maintaining the same function and relationship as a married couple. 


1 Mikaere, 1994

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