New research highlights how reliant older New Zealanders are on NZ Super

As part of the review of retirement income policies, Te Ara Ahunga Ora Retirement Commission has undertaken research to better understand life for New Zealand’s older citizens.  

Six focus groups were conducted to gain an in-depth insight into the lives of people aged 65 or older in New Zealand, with an emphasis on their financial situation. 

A common theme that came through the discussions was how important New Zealand Superannuation is to those aged over 65.  

A male participant from the North Island went as far as saying: “I’d probably be living on the streets without it.” 

And another based in Auckland, joked about having to resort to “bank robbing” if he didn’t have access to it, but is: “… very grateful for it, it’s not enough, but I’m very grateful.” 

There is some indication of a growing divide between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, where those who have been able to invest continue to grow their investments even when not working, while those who have not been able to save or invest, often due to life shocks, are facing substantial impacts from cost of living increases. 

Nowadays, 40% of people aged 65 and over have virtually no other income besides NZ Super. And another 20% have only a little more. Even with NZ Super, close to 1 in 3 people don’t think they will have enough for retirement unless they continue working past 65.  

Retirement Commissioner Jane Wrightson say these latest insights provide further evidence that NZ Super remains of significant value to most New Zealanders aged over 65.  

“The most important aspect to NZ Super is that it is part of a stable and consistent policy that allows people to plan over a long period of time. Trust and confidence in the system is vital,” she says.   

“What we’re seeing more of today is a growing number of older people needing to continue working longer because they still have mortgages to pay, are renters, or haven’t been able to save enough. NZ Super provides them with an essential lifeline.” 

The findings also highlighted there are a number of other dynamics at play causing concern to older people financially:  

  • KiwiSaver balances are too low to provide long term security (to be expected given KiwiSaver has only been around since 2007)  
  • investments and savings are performing poorly meaning people have less to live on and savings are eroding 
  • rising healthcare costs are of particular concern  
  • cost of living is also taking its toll, with some participants saying that petrol costs are preventing them from leaving the house and exacerbating feelings of isolation.  

Te Ara Ahunga Ora, Research Lead Dr Jo Gamble, who conducted the research, says as a consequence, NZ Super is not perceived to be sufficient to cover even a basic standard of living. 

“People are increasingly relying on additional allowances or having to go without the essentials of food, health or power, especially among those who rely on it completely,” she says.  

“We also sought views on what life was like for them when they were 55-60 years old to get a sense of the planning and preparedness for retirement.  

“Participants were asked what they would tell their younger self. Advice differed depending on their current situation (distressed, exposed, on-track). Regardless of where people are now, many emphasised the need to set a budget and stick to it, the avoidance of debt, and importance of asking for advice earlier rather than later.” 

Dr Gamble says this work has provided snapshot of what retirement looks like for people across New Zealand and is grateful to those who took part in this research. 

“They shared openly and honestly about their experiences in retirement and there’s a lot that people at any age can take away and think about in their own long-term planning.” 

The full report is available here. Further research responding to the terms of reference set by government for the Review of Retirement Income Policies will be released in the coming weeks.   

Te Ara Ahunga Ora has also been compiling stories about the important role many older New Zealanders play in the communities as volunteers, carers, grandparents, workers, largely made possible through the support they get from NZ Super. Their stories can be viewed here 



About Older People’s Voices: Qualitative Research with New Zealanders Aged 65 or Older 

Research undertaken by Dr Jo Gamble, Research Lead at Te Ara Ahunga Ora.  

The report takes a qualitative approach to understand people’s lived experiences in detail. Six focus groups were conducted to gain an in-depth insight into the lives of people aged 65 or older in New Zealand, with an emphasis on their financial situation. 

Bearing in mind ongoing disruptions due to COVID-19 restrictions, a mixed methodology approach was used, via both in-person and online focus groups. The approach allowed the involvement of people with mobility issues, those who were apprehensive of being in proximity with others, as well as those living in disparate or remote areas of New Zealand. Focus groups were used rather than interviews because we wanted people to share their experiences with others in a similar situation as well as gain insight from each other.    

About the RRIP  

Under the New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income Act 2001, the Retirement Commissioner is required to carry out a Review of Retirement Income Policies (RRIP) every three years and report to Government.   

Key topics to be focused on for the 2022 review relate to three broad areas comprising New Zealand Superannuation, housing, and private savings including KiwiSaver.    

More information, including the terms of reference, is available here.   

About NZ Super 

New Zealand Superannuation (NZ Super) is the government pension paid to Kiwis aged 65 and older. 

Any eligible New Zealander receives NZ Super, regardless of: 

  • How much they earn through paid work 
  • Their savings and investments 
  • Any other assets they own 
  • What taxes they have paid. 
  • 40% of all over 65s have less than $100 pw from other sources (40% of singles have no other income).
  • the next 20% have on average around 70% of their income from NZS and other government transfers 

NZ Super  | Retirement Commission Te Ara Ahunga Ora  


Media contacts: 

For more information, or to arrange any interviews contact: 

Anika Forsman | Director, Stakeholder Relations 

Mobile +64 21 246 4302