Download complete Employment domain

Employment affects the economic status and standard of living of an individual and their family and also has a strong influence on social and emotional wellbeing [1]. For most people, participation in paid employment is the main factor in determining adequate income [2]. Being employed is an important way for a person to meet their material needs and to participate in their community [3]. Employment is also important to an individual’s identity and their role in society [4,5]. Longitudinal studies show that unemployment has a direct negative effect on health, over and above the effects of socioeconomic status, poverty, and prior ill-health [6].

There are three general labour force status classifications: employed, unemployed, and not in the labour force [7]. Levels of employment and unemployment differ across population groups, meaning some groups are less likely to experience the positive benefits of employment. When people move from unemployment to employment, they gain in material wellbeing, subjective wellbeing, physical and mental health, and socioeconomic status [8].

Key trends within employment

The labour market in greater Christchurch has moved through four main phases over the last ten (plus) years. Firstly, prior to the beginning of the Canterbury earthquake sequence, the employment statistics for greater Christchurch were similar to those for New Zealand overall. Then, during the initial post-earthquake period, the employment opportunities in greater Christchurch were adversely affected by the disruption of critical infrastructure and loss of business premises (including public services), and a general reduction in demand for goods and services by individuals and households within the greater Christchurch economy.

During the next phase, the peak repair and rebuild years from late 2012 to 2016, employment statistics in greater Christchurch generally tracked above both pre-earthquake and New Zealand levels. Finally, the most recent data indicate a general convergence between the employment statistics in greater Christchurch and New Zealand overall. This convergence includes, most recently, some common patterns that are likely to be related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The previously favourable differences for greater Christchurch in the unemployment rate, employment rate, labour force participation rate, and underemployment rate have all diminished. Job satisfaction decreased in Canterbury and in New Zealand overall between 2016 and 2021, declining by approximately 9 percentage points in Canterbury (to 76.4% in 2021) and 10 percentage points in New Zealand (to 74.1% in 2021).

Key equity issues within employment

Changes in the employment and labour force participation rates in greater Christchurch over the last ten (plus) years indicate that the employment opportunities for young people and females have been particularly sensitive to external drivers (comparable data were not available by ethnicity for greater Christchurch due to the survey sample size for this area being too small to present robust data). In greater Christchurch, from late 2012 to 2016, employment statistics broadly reflect shifts in employment opportunities during the earthquake recovery/rebuilding phase. Generally, employment opportunities for low-skilled and unskilled workers tend to be strongly driven by the prevailing economic conditions: unfavourably (compared to skilled workers) when economic conditions slow and more equitably as economic conditions improve. This pattern is also broadly applicable to the COVID-19 era [9,10].

What this means for wellbeing

Employment continues to be a key driver of individual and community wellbeing in greater Christchurch. For most people, participation in paid employment is the main factor in determining adequate income. The employment statistics for greater Christchurch are now similar to New Zealand overall.


  1. Warr P (1987) Work, unemployment, and mental health. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. National Health Committee (1998) The Social, Cultural and Economic Determinants of Health in New Zealand: Action to Improve Health. Wellington: National Health Committee.
  3. Milligan S, Fabian A, Coope P, Errington C (2006) Family wellbeing indicators from the 1981–2006 New Zealand Censuses. Statistics NZ, University of Auckland, University of Otago.
  4. Waddel G, Burton AK (2006) Is working good for your health and wellbeing? London: Department of Work and Pensions, UK Government.
  5. Dodu N (2005) Is employment good for well-being? a literature review. Journal of Occupational Psychology, Employment and Disability 7: 17-33.
  6. Junaker R (1991) Unemployment and mortality in England and Wales: a preliminary analysis. Oxford Economics Papers 43: 305–320.
  7. Statistics New Zealand (2014) A guide to unemployment statistics (second edition). Wellington: Statistics New Zealand.
  8. Mathers C, Schofield D (1998) The health consequences of unemployment: the evidence. Medical Journal of Australia 168: 178–182.
  9. Congdon WJ, Kling JR, Mullainathan S (2011) Poverty and Inequality. In: Congdon WJ, Kling JR, Mullainathan S, editors. Policy and Choice: Brookings Institution Press. pp. 140-172.
  10. McGaughey E (2015) Behavioural Economics and Labour Law: LSE Legal Studies Working Paper No. 20/2014. In: Ludlow A, Blackham A, editors. New Frontiers in Empirical Labour Law Research: King's College London Law School.
  11. Quigley R, Baines J (2014) The social value of a job. Wellington: Ministry for Primary Industries.
  12. Wilkinson R, Marmot M, editors (2003) Social determinants of health: the solid facts 2nd edition. Copenhagen: World Health Organization.
  13. Winefield AH, Delfabbro PH, Winefield HR, Duong D, Malvaso C (2017) The Psychological Effects of Unemployment and Unsatisfactory Employment on Young Adults: Findings from a 10-Year Longitudinal Study. The Journal of Genetic Psychology 178: 246-251.
  14. World Bank (2013) World Bank Development Report (2013). Jobs. Washington DC: World Bank.
  15. Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (2017) Labour market terms explained. Retrieved from www.mbie.govt.nz/info-services/employment-skills/labour-market-reports/pacific-peoples-labour-market-trends/march-2017/terms-explained.
  16. Statistics New Zealand (2023) Unemployment rate. Retrieved from www.stats.govt.nz/news/unemployment-rate-at-3-4-percent/#:~:text=The%20primary%20contribution%20to%20higher,the%20HLFS%20began%20in%201986.
  17. Lucas RE, Diener E (2003) The happy worker: Hypotheses about the role of positive affect in worker productivity. In: Barrick MR, Ryan AM, editors. Personality and work: Reconsidering the role of personality in organizations (The organizational frontiers series). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  18. Statistics New Zealand (2021) New Zealand General Social Survey 2021. Wellington: Statistics New Zealand.