New Zealand Culture


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.

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.

It has become more common for children to continue living with their parents past the age of legal independence. Many are young adults who study at university whilst living at home; however, recent figures showed 40.5% of all dependant young adults were not attending school.

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.

Elders are to be treated with great courtesy and respect in Māori culture. Men traditionally had more influence and respect in the household and society; however, the power gap between Māori men and women is disappearing. Traditionally, 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. These foster parents may be related to the child (e.g. grandparents) but not necessarily. Whāngai usually occurs if parents cannot adequately raise their child (for various reasons). However, traditionally it was common for children to be fostered to strengthen cultural community ties or to provide people who were unable to give birth the opportunity to have a child.

Dating and Marriage
New Zealanders date like Australians. It is common for couples to meet though their social circles, workplaces or hobbies. Online dating services are popular amongst several age groups.

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 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.
Cultural Competence Program
Cultural Competence Program Logo

Join over 300 organisations already creating a better workplace

Find out more
Download this Cultural Profile

Too busy to read it right now?

You can download this cultural profile in an easy-to-read PDF format that can be printed out and accessed at any time.

New Zealand
  • Population
    [July 2016 est.]
  • Language
    English (89.8%)
    Te reo Māori (3.5%)
    Samoan (2%)
    Other (5%)
    Sign language (official)
    Note: Total surpasses 100% due to the ability to select multiple responses on census.
    [Census, 2013]
  • Religion
    No Religion (41.9%)
    Catholic Christianity (12.6%)
    Anglican Christianity (11.8%)
    Presbyterian Christianity (8.5%)
    Other Christianity (7.3%)
    Other (6.32%)
    Note: Total surpasses 100% due to the ability to select multiple responses on census.
    [Census, 2013]
  • Ethnicity
    European (71.2%)
    Māori (14.1%)
    Asian (11.3%)
    Islander Peoples (7.6%)
    Other (2.7%)
    Note: Total surpasses 100% due to the ability to select multiple responses on census.
    [Census, 2013]
  • Cultural Dimensions
  • Australians with New Zealand/Māori Ancestry
    349,877 [Census, 2016]
New Zealanders in Australia
  • Population
    [Census, 2016]
    This figure refers to the number of Australian residents that were born in New Zealand.
  • Median Age
    42 [Census, 2016]
  • Gender
    Male (50.4%)
    Female (49.6%)
    [Census, 2016]
  • Religion
    No Religion (43.8%)
    Catholic Christianity (13.3%)
    Anglican Christianity (11.9%)
    Presbyterian & Reformed Christianity (5.7%)
    Christianity [not defined] (4.6%)
    Other Religion (15.0%)
    [Census, 2016]
  • Ancestry
    English (32.5%)
    Scottish (12.8%)
    Māori (11.8%)
    New Zealander (11.6%)
    Other Ancestry (31.2%)
    [Census, 2016]
  • Language Spoken at Home
    English (89.7%)
    Samoan (2.8%)
    Te reo Māori (1.8%)
    Tongan (0.6%)
    Other Language (4.1%)
    Of those who speak a language other than English at home, 95.3% speak English fluently.
    [Census, 2016]
  • Diaspora
    Queensland (38.8%)
    New South Wales (22.6%)
    Victoria (18.0%)
    Western Australia (15.3%)
    Other (5.3%)
    [Census, 2016]
  • Arrival to Australia
    Prior to 2007 (64.3%)
    2007 - 2011 (17.4%)
    2012 - 2016 (14.4%)
    [Census, 2016]
Country Flag Country New Zealand