Latest Social Report 2016 | Previous reports | Regional Indicators 2009 | Contact us

Domains and Social Indicators

The Social Report 2009 identifies 10 discrete outcome domains. These are listed in Table IN1.

The outcome domains are interconnected. Doing well or poorly in one domain is often likely to impact on performance in another outcome domain. For example, participation in leisure and recreation is a good thing in itself, but it may also lead to improved physical and mental health, and better social networks.

Social indicators are signposts that help measure progress towards a desired outcome. Indicators are chosen because they measure the outcome of interest directly (for example, the unemployment rate in the Paid Work domain) or because they are known to be a good predictor of, or are associated with, that outcome (for example, cigarette smoking in the Health domain).

The use of social indicators means we can measure trends over time by compressing the sizeable body of statistical information in an outcome domain to a few high-level measures. For example, we use five indicators to represent the outcomes in the Knowledge and Skills domain. Though the indicators do not describe the state of knowledge and skill acquisition in New Zealand in detail, they provide important summary information on outcomes in that domain (for example, educational attainment of the adult population) or they act as key predictors of future outcomes (for example, participation in early childhood education).

One of the key features of a social indicator is that any change can be interpreted as progress towards, or a movement away from, the desired outcome. This distinguishes social indicators from some social statistics that cannot be interpreted in this way. For example, while a change in the average age at which New Zealand women give birth to their first child is an important social statistic, it cannot be said to be necessarily "good" or "bad".

Indicators have been selected against the following criteria:

  • relevant to the social outcome of interest – the indicator should be the most accurate statistic for measuring both the level and extent of change in the social outcome of interest, and it should adequately reflect what it is intended to measure
  • based on broad support – there should be wide support for the indicators chosen so they report on a broadly shared understanding of wellbeing
  • grounded in research – there should be sound evidence on key influences and factors affecting outcomes
  • able to be disaggregated – it should be possible to break the data down by age, sex, socio-economic status, ethnicity, region and, where possible, to the individual (or smallest group possible), so we can compare outcomes for different groups
  • consistent over time – the usefulness of indicators is related directly to the ability to track trends over time, so indicators should be consistent over time
  • statistically sound – the measurement of indicators needs to be methodologically rigorous
  • timely – data needs to be collected and reported regularly to ensure indicators are providing up-to-date information
  • enable international comparisons – as well as reflecting the social goals of New Zealanders, indicators need to be consistent with those used in international programmes so we can make comparisons.

Trade-offs between these criteria are sometimes required. For example, it may be necessary to choose an indicator where data is produced at long intervals to ensure a consistent time series is available.

In some outcome domains, such as Health, there is an abundance of good data from which to draw appropriate indicators. In other outcome domains, in particular Physical Environment and Cultural Identity, there is less good-quality, relevant data available, resulting in fewer indicators in these domains.