How our world has changed since 2000

20:49, Dec 31 2010

It's just like that old Pink Floyd song says: "And then one day you find, 10 years have got behind you."

The passage of a decade doesn't mark an era. It's not even one generation, even if the last decade did start with the hoopla of the less-than-deadly Y2K bug and an argument about whether 2000 was the start of a new century or the end of an old one.

While there's no argument that 2011 is the first year of the "20-teens", just what did change in the past 10 years?

The alterations of a decade are subtle: shrubs become trees, houses get painted, jobs come and go, children grow up. But when you look in the mirror, not that much seems different.

Yet, in the past 10 years, New Zealand has become older, better educated, less scared, browner, more adventurous in its eating habits, and more tolerant yet less open to new ideas. Attitudes to issues of conscience have tracked our economic fortunes – a roller-coaster ride of debt-fuelled wealth followed by a crash that left us poorer than when the decade began.

That ride was mirrored in a burst of enthusiasm for saving the planet during the boom, which has waned as cash consciousness has collided with conscience, even though "the environment as an issue has come of age", with more than eight out of 10 New Zealanders now expressing concerns in this area.


We know all this and more because watching closely through the past decade were any number of pollsters, statisticians, academic zeitgeist pulse-takers and general data-gatherers. Among them was Roy Morgan Research, the Australian pollster, which issued its first New Zealand "State of the Nation Report" last month.

Based on more than 115,000 interviews with New Zealanders between January 2001 and June 2010, asked in weekly batches, of people aged 14 and over, the report reflects Roy Morgan's anticipation that in the first decade of the 21st century, citizens of the developed world would need its help to face "an increasingly complex social environment".

Not only would this generate demand for the company's research and interpretations, it reasoned, but it would also increase public support for those phone calls from pollsters that always seem to coincide with sitting down to dinner.

Among the big trends it watched in New Zealand: the changing role of women, redefinitions of work roles and family, the impact of new technology and globalisation, the "middle-ageing" of the country's population, and attitudes to health, security and quality of life, including "the value of time" and the environment.

Among the main findings, some of which show a growing "stay at home" tendency consistent with getting older, are:

A lot more eggheads: In December 2001, 14.7 per cent of New Zealanders aged over 14 years old had a tertiary qualification. In December 2010, that figure has jumped to 22.7 per cent – one of the most dramatic shifts that the report records outside the impact of digital technology. Women gained more than men in this rise, going from 13.2 per cent with a degree 10 years ago to 22.4 per cent now. Men graduates increased from 16.2 per cent to 23.1 per cent.

A more adventurous palate: While Chinese food is most commonly cited as a favoured cuisine, it's down from 81.1 per cent to 74.9 per cent over the 10 years. Italian food is steady at 52 per cent. But it's Indian, Thai and Japanese food that has stormed the national tastebuds. Going to a cafe has jumped from something half of us did at least once every three months in 2001 to 56 per cent today.

But we're eating out less: It may seem as if the world is awash with pizza parlours, but apart from "dining in" at McDonald's, Burger King or KFC, which rose slightly over the decade, we are eating out and buying takeaways less by about five percentage points across the gamut of licensed restaurant dining (from 57.3 per cent to 52 per cent), getting takeaways (down from 72.8 per cent to 68.6 per cent), going to the pub (28.2 per cent compared with 34 per cent 10 years ago), and BYO restaurants, where only 18.7 per cent – close to one in five people – had eaten out in the previous three months, compared with almost one in four (23.8 per cent) a decade earlier.

Rising respect for Maori culture: Ten years ago, just over half of New Zealanders said Maori culture was "an essential component of New Zealand society". That's now at 61.5 per cent, although that does still mean four out of 10 don't buy this.

We're cool with Elton John's baby: Well, relatively speaking. In 2001, almost one in four agreed that homosexual parents should be allowed to adopt. Today, that figure is just over half. On the other hand, almost half of New Zealanders are saying religion should be taught once a week in school, up a notch from 10 years ago.

New stuff seems less interesting: Perhaps not a huge move, but numbers attracted to "new things and new ideas" has quietly dropped from 28 per cent to 25 per cent, while a rise in "progressive viewpoints on social issues and trends" rose slightly during the mid-2000s' good times, only to slip back to the same levels as a decade ago.

Racism remains a worry: Although only 6 per cent of those polled nominated immigration, human rights and race issues as their dominant concern, half of these related to racism, which is "of concern", Roy Morgan suggests.

We're not so scared of computers: Only a quarter of people in 2001 thought computers and technology "give me more control over my life". That's been rising and is now at 36.9 per cent – just two-thirds of the population still to convince on that one.

Facebook is in, Twitter's a fad: Well, that's what these numbers say. Back in 2001, neither existed. In 2006, Facebook entered the charts at 0.1 per cent. Four years later, that's 40.1 per cent of the population saying we visited Facebook at least once in the last four weeks. Twitter? Forget about it. Early last year, it entered the survey with 3.4 per cent of Kiwis admitting monthly visits. A year later, that's 3.8 per cent. So far, it ain't Facebook. Compare it with MySpace, which entered the charts at 2.7 per cent five years ago, and it scrapes on at 2 per cent today.

Apart from going to the pictures more often, media habits are moving online: What more home-based activity is there than a spot of online chat, gaming, Trade Me window-shopping, emailing, newspaper reading or TV watching? In 2010, more than 80 per cent used a computer at home in the last month, compared with 60 per cent a decade ago. It was the biggest rise in leisure activity, although time spent on each activity is not noted.

Fighting fit: Personal exercise is up, but formal sports participation is down, along with day trips in a car and entertaining friends and family.

Broadband is the new dial-up: So-called "fast broadband" delivered over copper or co-axial cable is now in the households of more than two-thirds of those polled. In December 2001, it didn't even register. Will people pay more for the exponential speed jump from fibre? The Government hopes so.

We like heat pumps: While the biggest movements have been in digital technology uptake, the other technology embraced by New Zealanders since about 2004 is heat pumps – commonly known elsewhere in the world as "air conditioners". One in five homes now owns one of these puppies, compared with just one in 20 in 2001.

Safe and sound: New Zealanders are also telling Roy Morgan they feel safer today than they did 10 years ago. Even though September 11, 2001, is within the date range, terrorism isn't even on the radar here today.

It's more of a surprise to learn there has been a big drop in the numbers saying, "I feel less safe than I used to", down from 48 per cent in 2001 to 42.3 per cent at the end of 2010. Two-thirds of people are still security conscious, but that tally fell slightly over the period too.

Making cents: Underlying it all is an economic reality also measured by Roy Morgan – household wealth. In 2001, total household wealth stood at $1.4 billion. One decade later and the unfortunate truth is that households are now worth slightly less, at $1.2b. To explain that, look no further than a survey graphic with a wildly gyrating line that shows confidence in the economy.

It's on the up again now, but in 2007 and 2008, it took an almighty hammering.