Cultural identity

Desired outcomes

New Zealanders have a strong national identity and a sense of belonging, and value cultural diversity. Everybody is able to pass their cultural traditions on to future generations. Māori culture is valued, practised and protected.


Culture refers to the customs, practices, languages, values and world views that define social groups such as those based on nationality, ethnicity, region or common interests. Cultural identity is important for people’s sense of self and how they relate to others. A strong cultural identity can contribute to people’s overall wellbeing.

Cultural identity based on ethnicity is not necessarily exclusive. People may identify themselves as New Zealanders in some circumstances and as part of a particular culture (eg Māori, Chinese or Scottish) in other circumstances. They may also identify with more than one culture.

The desired outcomes statement recognises the importance of a shared national identity and sense of belonging, and the value of cultural, social and ethnic diversity. It recognises New Zealand is a multicultural society, while also acknowledging that Māori culture has a unique place. For example, under the Treaty of Waitangi, the Crown has an obligation to protect the Māori language.

Defining a national identity is not simple. New Zealand is a diverse nation, made up of many cultural groups, with many different customs and traditions. While people may describe themselves as “New Zealanders”, how they define their “New Zealand-ness” will vary from person to person. For example, some people might see a New Zealand identity in aspects of New Zealand history or in New Zealand achievements in sporting, artistic or other endeavours, while others might see it through a sense of national characteristics or traits, or through national symbols and icons. Māori culture may form one aspect of national identity, since it is both unique to New Zealand and a part of its identity in the outside world.

Cultural identity is an important contributor to people’s wellbeing. Identifying with a particular culture helps people feel they belong and gives them a sense of security. An established cultural identity has also been linked with positive outcomes in areas such as health and education. It provides access to social networks, which provide support and shared values and aspirations. Social networks can help to break down barriers and build a sense of trust between people – a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “social capital”.

However, strong cultural identity expressed in the wrong way can contribute to barriers between groups. Members of smaller cultural groups can feel excluded from society if others obstruct, or are intolerant of, their cultural practices.


Four headline indicators are used in this report to provide a snapshot of the health of New Zealand’s cultural identity. They are local content programming on New Zealand television; Māori language speakers; language retention; and the ability to be yourself in New Zealand.

The first indicator is the share of New Zealand content programming on free-to-air television. Since television is the dominant cultural medium for many New Zealanders, it has a strong influence on how New Zealanders see themselves.

The second indicator measures the health of the Māori language. Language is a central component of culture and a necessary skill for full participation in Māori society.

The proportion of people who can speak the first language (other than English and Māori) of their ethnic group is an indicator of the degree to which people are able to retain their culture and traditions, and to pass them on to subsequent generations.

The final indicator measures people’s ability to be themselves in New Zealand. This subjective indicator looks at the ease with which people feel they can express their own identity in New Zealand society.

Domain summaryTop

Cultural Identity domain outcomes are generally declining.

The proportion of local content programming on New Zealand television broadcast during prime-time hours has remained stable over the last few years (recent-change), but has fallen since 2006 (medium-term-change).

The proportion of Māori who could speak te reo Māori dropped between 2001 and 2013, driven largely by a decline in Māori language speakers among the older age groups. Proportions of people who can speak the first language of their ethnic group (other than Māori) also appear to be declining since 2001, particularly for those in Pacific and European ethnic groups.

Most people found it very easy or easy to be themselves in New Zealand in 2014, though Pacific peoples, those in the Asian ethnic group, and those in lower socio-economic groups were less likely than others to say this.