|New Zealand performs poorly compared with other first world countries but the latest research ignores economic factors.|
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Growing Up in New Zealand - a survey launched in 2008 - challenges "much rhetoric" about early childhood in so-called Godzone.
"Although a developed country, New Zealand faces real challenges in health, welfare and education, and
performs poorly in OECD rankings in several of these parameters."
Professor Stuart McCutcheon, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Auckland says that more than 7,000 babies have been "recruited" into the study.
"Their parents have volunteered their time over the next 21 years to provide insights into their lives and those of their children."
First findings from the survey however point to politically sensitive outcomes.
"Information from the first of many interviews in this study challenges much of our traditional rhetoric about growing up in New Zealand," reads an executive summary of the 101 page report.
Study Director Susan Morton said there were "many" wonderful things about growing up in New Zealand, but added, there are also some "negative things" such as poorer health and school achievement among Māori and Pacific children and those from "impoverished families."
The initial research shows "inequality" among children before they are even born. It starts with the access their pregnant mums have to information and help.
"Nearly half of the mums in deprived areas were not aware of the Working for Families tax credit."
Despite highlighting that lack of financial information, the report only mentions economic factors four times, compared with 40 mentions for antenatal factors.
Previously identified as one of the most economically unequal countries in the OECD, New Zealand researchers however seem reluctant to question economic orthodoxies. Morton refers to "impoverished" families, in a message on the website, but the word does not appear in the study itself.
"Poverty" is mentioned once, in the appendix, considering "appropriate policy initiatives to address outcomes related to the wider influences on development including family structure and support, poverty and financial stress, social networks, cultural affiliation, physical environments and the media."
Even the word "poor" - as in 'performing poorly' - is not used in the economic sense. The only reference to OECD after the foreword refers to immunisation, not economics. Responses to the study findings via the Science Media Centre also ignore poverty.
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