Research highlights widespread disparities in the experiences Māori have in retirement

Findings from the largest collation of research and analysis on what retirement looks like for Māori has highlighted the difficult situation many are facing now and into the future.

Te Ara Ahunga Ora Retirement Commission has released four papers considering the lives of older Māori and their journeys towards retirement. It is clear the impacts of colonisation, structural inequality and land loss have had a permanent detrimental effect on most.

Māori die sooner than non-Māori and throughout their lives they face disparities in health, economic wellbeing, poverty, educational experiences, incarceration, wealth and access to housing. Māori receive NZ Superannuation for fewer years, have lower KiwiSaver balances because they tend to earn less, and are less likely to own their own home in retirement.   

However, kaumātua are a vital part of the community, valued and respected as pillars of support and repositories of mātauranga, and provide an integral link between the past and present. 

The research project has been conducted to support the triennial review of retirement income policies. This year the Government asked Te Ara Ahunga Ora to take a special look at issues faced by Māori: four research projects delving into the Māori experience were undertaken in response. Research on the two other priority groups, Pacific Peoples and women, has also been released.

Retirement Commissioner Jane Wrightson says: “We have called on the expertise of some of the country’s leading academics and researchers, along with our own internal experts, to undertake this important piece of work.

“By properly understanding retirement through the worldviews of Māori, it should then be possible to develop good policies and related activities to improve outcomes for Māori in retirement.”

The first paper in the research series written by Dr Kathie Irwin, provides a historical, structural and political context to government policy development and the economic and social impact this had on Māori as a result.

The second paper is a literature review conducted by Dr Margaret Kempton and funded by the Ministry of Health. This paper provides an overview of recent research about what “retirement” looks like for Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand. The paper notes that Māori who live beyond age 65 often have a life shaped by culturally specific values, lifestyles, and expectations.

Paper three is a brief study of how demographic dynamics will shape the impact on Māori of retirement income policy by Len Cook, New Zealand Statistician from 1992-2000. 

The final paper in the series has been compiled by Erin Thompson and Dr Kathie Irwin and analyses the findings of a series of questions posed to older Māori in a pilot survey about what they think retirement looks like for them.

Research was also undertaken by the James Henare Research Centre at the University of Auckland, which held wānanga with kaumātua affiliated to Waikato-Tainui and Ngātiwai. Kaumātua shared their experiences of being busier than ever in later life and asking whether they really retire as kaumātua.  They provide care, tend gardens, and prepare and cook meals for whānau.  They also teach te reo me ōna tikanga Māori (Māori language and customs) and the values handed to them from their tūpuna.  Kaumātua also contribute significantly to their hapū and iwi, and work on and around the marae, attending events and representing whānau in marae and iwi affairs. 

Te Ara Ahunga Ora Kaihautῡ, and co-author of the fourth paper, Erin Thompson (Ngāti Rangiwewehi, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri, Ngaati Tiipa) says the research highlights how the economic circumstances of Māori in older age are generations in the making.

“The role of the state in contributing to the creation of this outcome profile has been significant. No single review of retirement income policy will be able to adequately address and unpick the multiple layers that generations of inequity have created. 

“Transforming the lives of older Māori will take short, medium, and long term strategic thinking and planning as well as structural, institutional and personal behavioural change.”

These research papers will feed into the recommendations in the full report the Retirement Commissioner will provide to Government in December 2022. Retirement Commissioner Jane Wrightson notes that policy development in this space needs to be led by Māori and this is likely to be a feature in the final report.

Key insights from each of the papers:

Paper One: Decolonising Public Policy: The Galaxy, The Gavel and The Gun, Dr Kathie Irwin (2022)

  • Policy making has generally not been undertaken with full understanding of the implications of Te Tiriti and kaupapa Māori.
  • Structural, historical, and political factors have played a role in dispossessing whānau, hapū and iwi of their resource base, their identity and the means to create inter-generational wealth on Māori terms and in Māori ways.
  • Māori health outcomes are more the result of structural and environmental influences than they are of personal factors.
  • While 91 iwi have now settled with the Crown, those settlements were political. The amounts returned were a fraction of the value confiscated and the settlements did not occur at the level at which the confiscations occurred. Whanau were the kaitiaki (guardians) of the land, but the Crown settled at the level of iwi. The pain of the loss continues as intergenerational trauma.
  • As Aotearoa New Zealand learns to understand and embrace its history, retirement income policy should not be developed from a one-size-fits-all approach.

Paper Two: Literature Review Dr Margaret Kempton (2022)

  • 250 pieces of research were considered as part of this literature review.
  • Acknowledging that Māori are a diverse and changing population, the clear message is that retirement prospects for Māori are dire.
  • "Disengagement" or “taking a break” is not generally a feature of retirement for Māori, as many are busy supporting whānau, the wider community, hapū and iwi.
  • Māori who live beyond age 65 often have a life shaped by culturally specific values, lifestyles, and expectations.
  • The mahi aroha undertaken by kaumātua provides guidance and leadership, often involves care of mokopuna, and is returned through the reciprocal nature of Māori culture through home care for older Māori.
  • The negative impact of colonialism and racism on the health and wellbeing of Māori compared to non-Māori is clear, both in terms of lower life expectancy and the early onset of age-related illness, as well as lower wealth and higher levels of poverty.
  • The impact of colonialism and the accompanying dispossession of land, as well as a lifetime of work in low wage occupations, were noted as factors in the low levels of Māori home ownership.
  • The fundamental importance of the concept of home, of whenua, was identified as underpinning the ability to support whanau, connect with whakapapa, engage in kotahitanga, and provide maanaki to whanau and friends.

Paper Three: A brief study of how demographic dynamics will shape the impact on Māori of retirement income policy Len Cook (2022)

  • Māori are once again becoming a larger share of the population, and will contribute disproportionately to growth in the workforce, over the coming decades.
  • Life expectancy at birth is 73.4 years for Māori males and 77.1 for wahine Māori. In comparison, non-Māori males are expected to live to 80.9 years, while non-Māori females are expected to live to 84.4 years. 
  • Life expectancy from age 65 is 15.4 years for Māori men and 17.5 years for wahine Māori. This compares to 19.6 and 21.9 for non- Māori. 
  • Māori survival drops significantly for both tane and wahine between the ages of 50 and 65, with the death rate for Māori men being x2.3 of non-Māori, and x2.6 for wahine Māori. The impact of both these factors is that Māori men and wahine Māori receive NZ Superannuation for fewer years, on average, than their non- Māori counterparts.
  • Retirement provision in New Zealand should enable Māori to expect to participate fully in retirement years, as a result of a productive working life which was prepared for by equitable access to education and health services particularly when young.
  • Despite its limitations in coverage, KiwiSaver plays a bigger part in lifetime asset accumulation for Māori than non-Māori.
  • But Māori are less likely to obtain the potential benefits that KiwiSaver provides, because of lower take up rates, and lower average incomes (which are disproportionally affected by fixed fees).
  • Māori have built up fewer tangible assets before retirement, particularly housing. Because they are more likely to be renting, their standard of living will be more affected by rental costs than non-Māori.
  • The productive potential of earlier generations of Māori has not been realised because of past disproportionality in access to higher levels of education and training, and unmet health needs. 

Paper Four: What the people said, about ‘what retirement looks like for Māori’, Dr Kathie Irwin and Erin Thompson (2022)

  • Ensuring that retirement income policy is informed by mātauranga Māori and ensures tirohanga Māori, a Māori perspective, would support better retirement provisions and outcomes for Māori which would benefit Aotearoa New Zealand as a whole.
  • 451 responses. 65% identified as female; 35% as male. 35% were under 50; 65 % over 50 years of age.
  • Kaumātua observed that as Māori men die younger, they fund NZ Super through their taxes, but do not benefit from it – or not for as long.
  • Some questioned whether the payment rate should be adjusted for Māori to better reflect the intergenerational responsibilities of kaumātua.
  • As KiwiSaver is designed to fund retirement, and lower life expectancy for Māori means fewer years after the age of 65, some participants raised the question of earlier access for Māori.
  • The kaumātua reflected on the situation where they ‘live in poverty as rangatira in our own whenua’, and do not plan for their retirement, due to their high mortality rates between ages 30-50 and lower life expectancy.
  • This is despite kaumātua being a vital part of the community, valued and respected as pillars of support and repositories of mātauranga, and an integral link between the past and present.
  • Suggestions for the Retirement Commissioner include establishing an Advisory Group (or rōpū) to consider the retirement income system for Māori, a Māori Future Planning Forum to identify opportunities that address equitable access for Māori in retirement, and Māori development in both financial capability and resilience and for papakāinga.
  • Lower ages of eligibility for Māori to both KiwiSaver and NZ Super were also proposed.


Notes to editors:  

2022 Review of Retirement Income Policies

The Retirement Commissioner is required by law to carry out a Review of Retirement Income Policies (RRIP) every three years in response to terms of reference set by the Government.

For the 2022 RRIP we have been asked to undertake research relating to three broad areas comprising New Zealand Superannuation, housing and private savings including a focus on decumulation and KiwiSaver.