What will they do for fun?

March 2011


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EVA MARIA SALIKHOVA takes a look at the longitudinal study, ***Growing Up in New Zealand.***

They are unlikely to snuggle in a cot daubed with lead-based paint, or grow up in a house lined with asbestos, or run around the streets until it’s too dark to play anymore, or poke thundercracker fireworks into the neighbour’s letterbox, or push shaky hand-built trolleys down steep hills, or join in desperate rock and slug-gun wars with the gang up the road, or stand in wet cow poo to warm their feet on the way to school – so what will they do for fun?

Dr Susan Morton, research director of the Growing Up in New Zealand study, is leading a team of researchers who will follow 7000 children into the first 21 years of their life as part of the largest longitudinal study in the southern hemisphere.

The study was a project the Ministry of Social Development wanted to see implemented. Its priority is to reflect the diversity of our population and find links between common issues and our upbringing, environments, parenting and society trends.

Daimon Schwalger (38, pictured above) is a study member from the Dunedin longitudinal study, Next Generation, which followed over 1000 children born between 1972 and 1973.

Now living in Melbourne and working as DJ Nomad, Schwalger is positive about being part of the research: “I feel the study benefits society. It’s an amazing study that goes into every aspect of a person. It’s good for these studies to happen so we can understand more about people. [Being involved with the study] made me think about myself and my health with some of the questions that we have to answer.”

Growing Up in New Zealand was put up for tender in 2006. Auckland University of Technology picked it up and attracted researchers from universities across the country to create the initial team. The study is designed to help policy makers reach better conclusions and decisions for the younger generations, and help them form into well-rounded individuals.

However, the scope of this study should be useful to many other professions. With its attention to detail and data collection methods, it has the potential to help communities make better choices in their lifestyles and bring up healthier future generations.

The Morton-lead study is also expected to have an impact by identifying educational factors that may present risks to the development of children, and by showing which of these factors might lead to successful – or poor – outcomes later in life.

The project obviously has much merit, but given its ongoing cost, the research team might have included families from other regions. While the units of analysis should be strong in the longitudinal context, the intrinsic ‘persona’ of Auckland in its New Zealand context could create a socio-geographical hump. Certainly the researchers have recruited a ‘representative’ ethnic, domicile and economic mix from three district health board regions – Auckland, Counties Manukau and Waikato, reaching to National Park and Coromandel, but if the research was being done predominantly in the South Island, for example, is it likely the resulting data would be significantly different?

Children have been volunteered by their mothers to be included in the research. Once they understand that they are to be monitored for much of their formative years, will all 7000 of them be happy to report back about personal issues until they’re 21 years old, let alone provide honest data? Young people are creative with their stories as they try on many faces growing up, and not all will understand the significance their answers will have on the statistical analysis to come from Growing Up in New Zealand.

All in all, the study and its researchers have a challenge ahead of them, and we will just have to wait and see what happens, literally.

Growing up findings

The first research report for Growing Up, titled Before we are born, was published in November 2010. The report provides useful contextual information.

Some key points in demographic, cultural and language contexts:

    • The mean age of mothers and fathers having children is increasing. While we continue to see a high rate of teenage pregnancy in New Zealand, the average age of parents having children in New Zealand (first or subsequent) is now greater than 30 years.
    • One in three of our children is born to at least one parent who did not grow up in New Zealand.
    • For one in 10 children the relationship between their parents will change significantly between the beginning of the pregnancy and their birth.
    • Most mothers are living with another adult during their pregnancy, usually their partners (80 per cent), but increasingly our children are being born into varied family structures, including mothers living with extended families (nearly 24 per cent overall and more than half of all Pacific families), with non-kin (three per cent overall but greater than 10 per cent for Asian mothers) or without other adults (three per cent overall but seven per cent for Māori mothers).
    • 80 per cent of the households use English as their primary language for everyday conversations. The remaining 20 per cent use a wide range of languages for everyday conversations, although the majority of parents are also able to converse in English.
    • One in three of the homes where children will grow up has at least one parent who is multilingual.
    • One in 20 of the children’s parents are able to converse in

te reo Māori.

  • Four out of every 10 of our children are being born into a family living in the most deprived areas of New Zealand.
  • Almost half of all families are living in rental accommodation when their child is born.
  • Families are highly mobile, with over half of all families moving more than twice in the last five years.
  • Nearly nine out of 10 mothers (89 per cent) expected either to take up, or return to, employment (either part or full-time) after the birth of their child. The most likely choice of care was an early childhood centre or similar (39 per cent), with family members and partners being the next most prevalent choice.

Hopes and dreams

“I hope that she will be healthy, happy and smart and that she has a good mix of her mother’s and father’s cultures and can speak both our languages.”

  • Grow up happy and healthy.
  • Receive a ‘good’ education – defined as finishing school all the way through to gaining a PhD.
  • ‘Good’ careers – defined as a ‘good’ job through to specific aspirations (doctors/pilots).
  • Financial security.
  • Engage in a range of activities and experiences.
  • Identify with cultural and family backgrounds.
  • Speak their parents’ languages.
  • Have an understanding of more than one culture.
  • Valuing and living by spirituality.
  • Be respectful and confident.
  • A belief in their own capacity to achieve their dreams.
  • Contribute to the community.

As parents, most mothers of study participants want to set a good example, give their children emotional security, provide for them, and nurture strong relationships with them.