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Meet the Averages; Meet Mr and Ms Average and Their Two Children; WHAT’s ON THE MENU?

August 17, 2008

By MACDONALD, Nikki

Statistics can tell us who’s an average Kiwi, but society is changing so fast it’s increasingly difficult to define ‘normal’, writes Nikki Macdonald.

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MEET the Averages: James, 35 and Sarah, 37 — both a bit on the porky side — live in a three- bedroom bungalow in Wellington. They’d been living together for several years before Sarah decided, when she reached 28, that she couldn’t just keep hitting the snooze button on her biological alarm clock. But it wasn’t till after Emma was born that the pair decided to get married.

Both Emma and six-year-old Joshua usually get driven to school. And they both watch a couple of hours of TV a day. So do their parents, who are obsessed with crime psychic show Sensing Murder. Joshua is asthmatic but still manages — when he’s not playing on the family computer or watching a DVD — to get out and walk Max the Labrador.

Though the mortgage and food bills soak up most of the couple’s $68,000 income, they still manage to keep aside more than their Auckland counterparts for movies and recreation, and to take the kids to the occasional show at CapitalE.

Sound familiar? Then you may also be close to the statistical portrait of the average Kiwi. But, in reality, a rapidly changing society is making “normal” increasingly difficult to define.

The number of childless couples is increasing and the proportion of people living alone is also projected to grow as the population ages.

VITAL STATISTICS

When Mr Average traipses the rugby field mud through the house, his muddy print is likely to be a United States size 10, according to Hannahs shoe store. Ms Average’s floorboard- pocking stilettos are probably size 9.

Max Fashions reports its most popular women’s clothing sizes are 10 and 12. That makes for some tricky manoeuvres, as the average bra size has jumped from the traditional 12B to 14C.

According to the latest national health survey, Ms Average is 163 centimetres tall and tips the scales at 72 kilograms. Her partner’s arms will need to stretch 85cm to encircle her waist.

And while Kiwi blokes might like to think they’re all built like towering All Block lock Ali Williams (202cm, 112kg), the average is 176cm tall and 85kg, with a 95cm waist.

Wellington shirt specialist 3 Wise Men says blokes seem to mostly come in two sizes — 38cm (for the skinny guys) and 42cm. Neck size, that is.

It’s hard to find stats on how many Kiwis wear glasses or contact lenses, but if driver’s licence figures are anything to go by, just over a quarter of adults are short-sighted.

If you’re about 36 years old, you’re slap in the middle of New Zealand’s age spectrum. Women still outlive their partners. Of course, that’s if they can find a partner — there are 96 men for every 100 women, and the biggest group of lads is in the 10-14 age bracket.

AT HOME

Mr and Ms Average live in the North Island, probably in a three- bedroom house. And chances are it’s owned by the landlord (especially if you’re aged 25 to 34) or, at least partly, by the bank. Only two out of three Kiwi families owned their own home in 2006, compared with three out of four 15 years earlier. And of those owner-occupiers, about half are still coughing up to cover increasingly painful mortgage payments. Less than a third of those renting can afford to buy.

Despite changing social attitudes, Mr and Ms Average are still likely to have got hitched at some stage. Census figures show almost half of all adults over 15 are married, and another 17 per cent are separated, divorced or widowed.

But there’s been a steady increase in childless couples over the past 20 years. And the rules are changing — illegitimacy has been legitimised. In 2006, 47 per cent of all babies were born to unmarried parents.

What’s more interesting, says Jan Pryor, director of the Roy McKenzie Centre for the Study of Families, is that we know that only about 12 to 13 per cent of kids’ parents live together, but aren’t married. Which suggests we’re doing everything back to front — having babies then getting married.

If there are young tots tearing around the house, they’re most likely to answer to Jack, Joshua, Ella or Charlotte. And just under half of all Kiwi households also have a pet. (If it’s a dog, chances are it’s a soppy, slobbering Labrador).

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WALLETS AND WAGES

In the first three months of this year, full- timers worked an average of 38 paid hours a week. But that doesn’t take account of unpaid overtime. In 2006, more than a third of employees worked between 41 and 80 hours a week. And Ms Average is still being shortchanged in her wage packet, earning $21.94 an hour, compared with $24.99 for blokes.

Though the average wage is about $47,000, the average household bank account swells by about $68,000 a year. But forget those dreams of cocktails on a Pacific beach, or a swanky new European car. Most of that hard-earned cash disappears before it gets anywhere near a savings account.

In 2006-2007, the Average household spent $956 net a week. The lion’s share — $224 — was sucked up by rent, mortgage payments, household maintenance, rates and energy. Mr and Ms Average shelled out $156 a week for food. Transport was the third biggest weekly cost, at $136, but that’s probably gone up with soaring fuel costs.

Wellingtonians were the biggest spenders, shelling out more on food and culture and recreation. What might come as a surprise, though, is that Kiwis are bananas about bananas. Progressive Enterprises, which owns Foodtown, Countdown and Woolworths supermarkets, says the canary-coloured fruit is its top-selling product, ahead of bread and milk. Toilet paper pips spaghetti and baked beans for the fourth spot, with cheese sneaking in at number six.

HYPOCHONDRIA?

We always knew we were made from tougher stock than those whinging Aussies, and here’s the proof: Four out of five adult Kiwis see a family doctor at least once a year, and the median number of visits is two. Across the Tasman, the average Aussie sees a doctor five times a year.

Men are still less likely than women to brave a trip to the GP, but the gap is closing. Either men are waking up to the idea of looking after their health (a quarter of all blokes’ visits are for routine check-ups or advice), or the past 10 years has brought an epidemic of the little-documented but dastardly man flu. With the Olympics coming up, another male sickness spike seems inevitable.

One in 10 doctors visits for women are for contraception.

Adults in Auckland, Nelson, Marlborough, South Canterbury, Otago, Southland and the West Coast are either healthier or more staunch, being the least likely to see the doctor. Those in Canterbury and Counties Manukau are the most sickly, or the biggest hypochondriacs.

We’re an unadventurous lot when it comes to alternative healthcare. Only one in five seek help from less-conventional treatments — mostly massage therapy, homeopathy or naturopathy. Even those trying out alternatives often hedge their bets — a third also see a family doctor for the same condition.

GRIN AND BARE THEM

Chances are, your flashy grin isn’t quite as wide as it used to be. Half of all Kiwi adults have had one or more teeth pulled out because of decay, abscess, infection or gum disease.

That’s probably not surprising, given that Kiwis are lax about looking after their teeth, with only half making the recommended annual dental visit. Men are significantly less likely than women of the same age to submit to the dentist’s chair.

New Zealand Dental Association executive director David Crum says it’s impossible to say what the average Kiwi pearlers look like, as the last comprehensive oral health survey was done 20 years ago. (A new one is planned for later this year.)

In the early 1970s, a quarter of the adult population had lost all their teeth, and 35 to 44-year-olds averaged a whopping 22 teeth missing or filled. That dropped to 18.3 teeth in 1988, with a big shift to fillings rather than extractions.

In general, baby boomers, whose parents would have worn dentures, tend to have mouths full of metal, which will be a headache to maintain as they get older, Dr Crum says. Changing practices and fluoridated water mean their children probably have few or no fillings. But improvements in young mouths may have stalled, with the worrying revelation that one in nine children aged 2-14 have lost one or more teeth to decay, abscesses, infection or gum disease.

UNDER THE COVERS

The 2007 Durex Sexual Wellbeing Survey reported that Kiwis have sex on average 122 times a year — more than their Aussie counterparts, who have sex 106 times. But only 43 per cent said they were fully satisfied with their sex lives.

And we’re early starters and promiscuous on a global scale. Kiwi women topped the world promiscuity charts, with an average of 20.4 sexual partners (global average 7.3). Blokes were more conservative, with 16.8 partners on average (global average 13.2). We lose our virginity at 17-18. But all is not well between the sheets — about a quarter of all Kiwis aged 20-60, and 29 per cent of Maori, suffer from insomnia.

BOXED IN

Television sucks up 173 minutes of the average New Zealander’s day, according to AGB Nielsen’s 2007 television trends data. And we just can’t get enough of reality TV — Border Security, Animal Rescue and Medical Emergency all made it into the top five programmes in the first week of this month, behind time- honoured favourite Fair Go, and One News. Sensing Murder and the irrepressible Coronation St also made the top 10, but hit Kiwi drama Outrageous Fortune went west, to number 24.

And only half of us manage to sever our close bonds with the couch for long enough to get in 30 minutes exercise five days a week. Aucklanders and Wellingtonians are the most slothful. Must be the lure of better shopping. And it’s hardly surprising that those in the deep south are the most active — they have to keep moving to keep warm.

Women aged 15 to 24 are some of the worst offenders, with only 47 per cent regularly giving their young muscles a workout. They’re shamed by the boys at 63 per cent.

CAUGHT ON THE NET

If you’re not online, you’re not normal. At least that’s what the statistics say. In New Zealand, three out of four adults used the Internet in the last month.

And we’re not just surfing the tsunami of celebrity gossip or trawling for trivia. Nielsen Online statistics show that, in the first three months of this year, 43 per cent of over-18s shopped from the comfort of their computer chair. (And we wonder why obesity levels are rising). Airline tickets were the most common online purchase, followed by books and magazines, then shoes and clothes.

Two out of three Internet users now bank online and about half also have virtual social lives, posting profiles on social networking sites Facebook, Bebo, MySpace or Old Friends. About a quarter of social networkers spend more than five hours a week updating their profile. Between that and blogging, how do they find time to do anything worth writing about?

* Main sources: Health Ministry’s A Portrait of Health; Statistics NZ: 2006 Census, Quarterly Employment Survey March 2008, Household Economic Survey 06/07, Demographic Trends: 2007; AGB Nielsen & Nielsen Online; Internal Affairs; Families Commission, The Kiwi Nest; Social Development Ministry, The Social Report 2007.

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WHAT’S ON THE MENU?

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Kiwi kids, are fizzy drink and fast food kids. Two out of three youngsters aged 2 to 14 have one or two fizzies a week. That’s a lot of birthday parties, if you’re taking the Health Ministry’s advice and using them as a treat food. Seven out of 10 kids scoff burgers, pizza or fish and chips at least once a week. On the upside, nine out of 10 children eat breakfast at home every day.

And mum, dad and the teens aren’t that much better. About a quarter of the average household’s weekly food budget is spent on restaurant meals and ready-to-eat food. Though two out of three adults polish off their greens and manage to fit in a couple of bits of fruit a day, less than half of young men aged 15-24 eat enough fruit or veges. That’s not surprising — their stomachs are probably too bloated from all that beer. One in two 18 to 24-year-old blokes indulge in dangerous drinking. And we’re coy about just how many of our hard-earned notes find their way into pub or off-licence tills. The average household supposedly spends $19 a week on booze. That’s two or three drinks out, per household. Yeah, right. Even the survey compilers admitted alcohol spending seemed to be under- reported.

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