New Zealand

New Zealand is experiencing the largest generational shift in its history, and is rapidly moving toward a super-aged society. With a strong, collaborative, and multi-stakeholder approach to aging, New Zealand is addressing the needs of its older population through an interwoven system of supports including a universal pension system, a localized social medicine system, robust nongovernmental programs, and individual efforts. A recurring theme in New Zealand is the government’s channeling of money to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) familiar with their respective communities. That integration may be an extension of what one expert called a “culture of community” in the country, the inclination to work together at the governmental, nongovernmental, and individual levels, to ensure needs are addressed. New Zealand’s recent history of social programs has experienced a series of funding cuts, making volunteer engagement even more important to program continuity.

While New Zealand maintains a strong economy, with growth projected to remain above the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average, New Zealand is struggling with rising income inequality that could affect growth and adversely affect the country’s most vulnerable, including older adults. This rising gap places older adults on fixed income particularly at risk, making social infrastructure, productive opportunities, and health services ever more important. The country’s well-developed social programs, including a universal pension plan and public health care system, provide needed support for the country’s older population, but the sustainability of these programs will face greater pressure as the share of older adults expands.

Today, more than 700,000 people age 65 and older make up more than 15 percent of the country’s population of 4.7 million. By 2032, New Zealand will become a super-aged society, when the percentage of people age 65 and older exceeds 21 percent.

Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division

Percentage of Population Age 65 and Over

(Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division)

Ecosystem for Policy and Social Innovation

New Zealand’s approach to population aging is shaped by the country’s openness and robust international relationships, community focus, and government empowerment of NGOs based on an implicit recognition that they are often better equipped to deliver certain services. In practice, much of the country’s innovation is being generated by individuals and NGOs, supported by broad government strategies related to older adults in New Zealand. Although individuals and their organizations often depend in part on government funding, shifts in the party in power have historically had a dramatic effect on the continuity and focus of the country’s social programs, hindering more robust collaboration.

Driving Forces of Innovation and Cross-Sector Collaboration

Community Social Infrastructure

An increasing number of older adults are living independently in New Zealand. While cities tend to offer greater access to transportation and care services, housing prices and limited housing stock remain challenges. Despite the country’s small geographical size, New Zealand’s older population is dispersed. Today, adults in New Zealand age 65 and older make up an increasing proportion of the population that lives alone, even as solo living increases in popularity among young people. To help ameliorate the pressure and enhance older adults’ overall well-being, the government is funding local projects including age-friendly community initiatives, with local entities taking the lead in developing programs tailored to their communities.

“The government has a real clear view that befriending increases the well-being of older people [and] the not-for-profit sector has a far greater reach and also a far greater capacity to deliver programs.”

– Stephanie Clare, Chief Executive, Age Concern New Zealand

Age Concern’s Accredited Visiting Service

Age Concern’s Accredited Visiting Service matches older adults in New Zealand with volunteers to visit and interact with them at home. Building that trust through accreditation is essential to a service that, despite its name, involves more than mere visiting, but instead facilitates lifelong friendships that benefit both older people and the volunteers visiting them. The service takes care to understand the experience and interests of the volunteers and the older adults to create better matches based on expected compatibility.

The service has continued to evolve through experimentation, with program staff gauging its impact and success using ongoing feedback from volunteers and the older adults. Age Concern conducts surveys at four of its 20 coordinating centers each year, soliciting input from volunteers and participants. The organization is currently experimenting with group meetings such as a Games Day at a local church, and is evaluating the use of Skype meetings on the south island, where many older adults live in remote locations.

Age Concern volunteers, usually older adults themselves, made 72,994 visits in the 2017 fiscal year, with 4,500 volunteers visiting 3,769 older people across the country and supplemented by 19,105 phone calls. This success reflects an understanding that social connection is key to the health of older adults and that governments can be most effective by funding non-profits that are better equipped to address those needs.

Productive Opportunity

New Zealand has exceptionally high workforce participation among older people. This high participation rate is influenced by several factors, including the country’s acute demand for skills and labor, an interest among some older adults to continue working, and a desire and/or need for supplemental income. With participation rates already so high, the government has primarily focused its attention on youth workforce participation, while NGOs and the private sector are developing job placement, entrepreneurship, and lifelong learning opportunities for older adults in New Zealand.

In 2016, the labor force participation rate of those age 65 and older was 24.3 percent, fifth in the OECD and up from just 7.7 percent in the year 2000. The government projects that a third of older people will be active in the workforce in 2068.

“It’s kind of like [an] all-hands-on-deck approach. [The attitude is], If you can help out, no matter what the age and stage, we need you.”

– Kate Ross, Recruiter, and Founder of Wise Ones

Wise Ones

The private sector and NGOs are leading efforts to retain or place older workers. One such effort is Wise Ones, a job portal specifically targeted to those age 50 and older. The project was launched in 2017 to offer older adults in New Zealand a platform to market themselves to employers. The site began as a job portal in reverse, where those age 50 and older would post profiles detailing their experience and expectations.

Responding to interest from employers, the site has already evolved to include a more traditional space where employers can post job listings targeting older people. Close to 900 candidates signed up to the site in the first six months with close to 130 companies doing the same. Reaction from candidates and employers alike has been positive, said Ross, whose efforts extend beyond the portal to persuading corporations that older workers are desirable, even without a labor shortage. Small and medium-sized businesses have been especially receptive to older candidates, because they either need people on an ad hoc basis or cannot afford a full-time employee. The human resources and finance sectors have also been ideal for older workers who can do accounting, help with human resources strategy and employment contracts, or manage staff.

Despite the labor shortage, just a fraction of companies offer flexible arrangements for older workers, though sites such as Wise Ones may help to shift that mindset. Although a high percentage of Wise Ones candidates do not want to work more than 30 hours per week, Ross notes the value of experience, citing that older adults in New Zealand are saying, “Offer me the flexibility, and I’ll get twice as much done.”

Technological Engagement

Though the majority of older adults in New Zealand is already technologically engaged, the country stands to further narrow the digital divide with a new push from the government to support digital inclusion and innovative training programs from established NGOs. A complementary effort is underway to identify ways that cutting-edge technology can benefit older adults in New Zealand, including the funding of robotic trials at a local university. The private sector is also recognizing the value of this growing demographic, with new products and services just beginning to emerge in the market.

In New Zealand, older residents are becoming more and more technologically savvy and the digital divide is rapidly narrowing. In fact, 70 percent of the country’s older people were internet users in 2015, compared with 40 percent in 2007.

Source: World Internet Project New Zealand: Internet Trends in New Zealand 2007-2015

Internet Usage by Age, in Percentage

“Technology is wasted on the youth. Technology and the skills of being able to learn technology is far more relevant for older people, particularly who are housebound and who cannot get out to be able to use those skills to be less isolated, and more involved.”

– Grant Sidaway, Founder of SeniorNet in New Zealand


In New Zealand, NGOs have historically led efforts to improve technology literacy among older adults. One such initiative is SeniorNet, which encompasses more than 75 learning centers around New Zealand with 650 volunteer tutors providing digital training for 15,000 to 17,000 older adults. The organization was inspired by SeniorNet activities that started in the United States in 1987. The need for technological literacy among older adults in New Zealand has grown dramatically since SeniorNet’s inception, and its courses have expanded through the years from basic computer skills to cover multiple aspects of technology.

Those courses have taught older adults in New Zealand how to shop online, how to reserve airline tickets, and how to stay connected with friends and family. Other learners build on basics they already know to “be more creative.” Social media has been the most popular among SeniorNet offerings, offering a powerful tool for people to keep in contact with family and friends and combat loneliness. In addition to social and communications tools, some older adults are seeking to “upskill” by learning how to use Excel or even more advanced applications in an effort to re-enter the workforce, for both paid and volunteer work. SeniorNet has trained older people involved in charity organizations, including Age Concern, which has given them the technological acumen necessary to do more work benefiting older adults in New Zealand.

Health Care and Wellness

People in New Zealand enjoy among the world’s longest healthy lives. The country’s health care system, established in 1938, has progressively tailored its care to local needs through regional health boards and alliances at the primary care level. With a strong foundation and long history, the system is now adapting to the country’s aging population, particularly through new efforts to improve care for chronic illnesses. NGOs are augmenting the medical system’s capacity by developing new, innovative health care services to further prepare the country to care for its aging population.

At age 60 in 2016, one could expect to live an average of 25.3 years, placing the country seventh among the 183 countries studied by the WHO. This is up from 22.6 years in 2000. Unfortunately, healthy life expectancy improvements are not keeping up—growing from 18.1 years to 20.3.

“The challenges going forward are going to be how to manage the milieu of complex comorbidities that people have had alongside their needs for social and environmental and personal support.”

– Ngaire Kerse, Head of the School of Population Health, University of Auckland

Localizing Care

Although the Ministry of Health oversees the entire public health care system, money is channeled through District Health Boards (DHBs), localized government bodies that run public hospitals and purchase and provide health care in their respective areas. They were established by the Public Health and Disability Act of 2000. DHBs were created to connect funding more directly with those responsible for providing health services, incorporate community input, and increase efficiency and accountability within the system. Today 20 DHBs operate public hospitals and clinics, and contract with NGOs for additional services, designed to decrease health inequalities and encourage mental health and disability services.

Localizing further, the government has also encouraged the country’s more than 3,500 general practitioners to join so-called Primary Health Organizations (PHOs), formed in 2002 and funded by the DHBs. PHOs are tailored around the needs of their community, led by doctors and other health workers, and designed “to ensure a seamless continuum of care.” Additional funding for PHOs is provided to improve access to health care, to address chronic conditions, and to serve populations with a prevalence of cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. Promoting accountability through transparency, PHO performance data is also publicly released, including information on chronic condition screening rates.

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