Embry’s Blog Post: An Armchair Sociologist’s View of New Zealand

Since the Captain is under the weather, he has asked me to be a “guest blogger” on Faux News.  And since I am a certified “Faux Armchair Sociologist,” I am going to give you a truly Faux Sociological view of New Zealand.  (Actually I am not trying to be “Faux,” but since I have only been here for 5 days so far, my investigations are certainly likely off base to a “Vrais” sociologist.)

What I find most interesting in New Zealand so far, in addition to the spectacular scenery and generally prosperous and relaxed life style, is the relationship between the minority groups and the “Pākehā,” or white people.  The most influential minority group are the Maori people, who were the inhabitants of New Zealand when white people arrived in the 17thcentury. The Maori are Polynesians who had been here since about 1300 (exact date of their settling the previously unoccupied islands is unsure).  They comprise about 15% of the population. The history of Maori interactions with white (mainly English/Scottish) early settlers has many similarities to the interactions between whites in the U.S. and Native Americans.  This includes broken treaties, stolen land, and wars. However, currently (after wars and disease) Native Americans comprise only 2% of the U.S. population, and thus have less political clout than Maori who are more similar to the U.S. proportion of African Americans. 

Beginning in the 1960s, the Maori have used legal means to seek reparations for their stolen land, similar to the movement in the U.S. to bring about restitution for the horrors of slavery or to seek restitution for broken treaties with Native Americans.  However, in the case of the Maoris, they had a single treaty—the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840– to use as a better political tool to negotiate, and have had considerable success.  This treaty with the British Crown was signed by most of the Maori tribal chiefs.  In 1975 New Zealand passed the Treaty of Waitangi Act, whereby any Māori can take a claim to the Tribunal that they have been disadvantaged by any legislation, policy or practice of the Crown since 1840. The Tribunal does not enforce the law, but has the power to make recommendations to the government.  This is somewhat similar to the Peace and Reconciliation process in South Africa, by providing an opportunity to have disputes aired and discussed in an open forum. It has also led to considerable return of tribal lands to the Maoris, as well as returned fishing and logging rights and individual reparations. My impression is that this is leading to a slow process of integration in New Zealand society with reduced disparities (documented by a great increase in income among the Maori  over the past 15 years than for the Pakeha/white people).  New Zealand also has a large immigrant population, an additional 15+%, with most immigrants coming from other Pacific Islands such as Samoa and Fiji. These Pacific Islanders do not have the Waitangi Act reconciliation process to fall back on in their attempts to achieve equality of opportunity.  They seem to be more like the Latino population of the U.S. in terms of socio-economic disparities.

To demonstrate this, here are the median personal incomes of the three New Zealand ethnic groups (from 2013), reflecting continuing disparities in New Zealand society:

  • $30,900:European
  • $22,500:Māori
  • $19,700:Pacific peoples. 

Corresponding personal income data for the U.S. (for 2008):

  • Non-Hispanic Whites: $31,313
  • Blacks: $18,406
  • Hispanics: $15,674.

As a health researcher I was particularly interested in health outcome disparities. I found  that Māori infant mortality (8.1 per 1000 live births) was significantly higher than that of non-Māori infants (5.0 per 1000 live birth)s, but a bit better than our disparities in the U.S., where black babies are still nearly 2.5 times more likely than white babies. Of course many other factors, such as New Zealand’s universal health system, could play into this better outcome.

Thus, our racial/ethnic disparities in the U.S. are greater (although not by a lot).  Your friendly armchair sociologist, concludes that New Zealand seems to be further along in reducing the profound racial/ethnic divide that plagues both our countries.  Has the Waitangi Act process helped?  I think so, but this may be Faux News.  Well, you are used to that from this blog, so take it all with a grain of salt, and as food for thought about what this means for proposals for reparations in the U.S.


7 thoughts on “Embry’s Blog Post: An Armchair Sociologist’s View of New Zealand

  1. Your comparison with the American scene is very interesting indeed, and poses some significant questions for the future – e.g. as the American/European civilisation declines (and that is beginning) and as the Indo/Chinese influence continues to grow, what is the future? And how will we, in the west, cope with it?

    Like (I suppose) every generation, I have concerns for the grandchildren who, right now, are staying with me.

  2. You guys are really the most extraordinary team and complement each other profoundly. Thanks for the data and clear-eyed comparisons, Mimy (Embry). I hope Joe feels better soon and that you are both able to fully enjoy this latest journey of discovery.

  3. Embry,
    What’s the story on drug abuse and out of wedlock children in NZ? Absentee fathers? When we were there in 1974 I got the impression that it was squeaky clean. The only non traditional practice I was aware of was the full acceptance and practice of topless bathing among all the people, the WASP majority included. But what really can you learn in just a short visit?
    I hope Joe recovers from his “melt down” quickly. When I read his first post about getting there, especially the “no room in the inn” upon arrival, I thought to myself that that would melt me down. Birthdays are starting to be a burden to our stimana.
    All good wishes,

  4. What a team of writers you two are!. If I were suddenly and miraculously brought out of retirement to run a travel magazine aimed at readers who wanted to look beyond the surface, you’d be the first two people I’d try to hire. You’ve answered a lot of my questions about life in New Zealand, and made me wonder how it differs from Australia. (That would be your
    second assignment.)

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