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Social, psychosocial and employment impacts of COVID-19 in New Zealand: Insights from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study 2020/2021

This report provides insights into the impacts of the four COVID Alert Levels on New Zealanders’ social wellbeing. Five areas were studied: health and well-being, personal relationships and social connections, employment and financial outcomes, perceived discrimination, and institutional trust and national identification.

This research is intended to inform COVID-19 response decision makers about impacts on social wellbeing, and identify areas where further investigation could provide deeper understanding of the impacts of the COVID Alert Levels. The data used for this research was taken from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS), a longitudinal study of social attitudes, personality, and health outcomes that thousands of New Zealanders complete each year.


  • New Zealanders were generally resilient across the Alert Levels, with reports of a greater sense of community and increased trust in science, politicians, and the police. However, reports of gender- and ethnic-based discrimination were raised across the Alert Levels.
  • Health and well-being – on average, there was no evidence of detrimental effects on mental health or personal well-being. However, younger people reported greater psychological distress during Alert Levels 3 and 2 than prior to the pandemic.
  • Personal relationships and social connections – Alert Level 4 was accompanied by greater average conflict and lower satisfaction in personal relationships. However, there was no change in average levels of social support and feelings of belonging. New Zealanders reported a greater sense of community across many of the Alert Levels, which may have contributed to the general pattern of resilience in well-being.
  • Employment and Financial Outcomes – Alert Levels 4, 3 and 2 were accompanied by drops in job security compared to prior to the pandemic. Job security rebounded at Alert Level 1 and participants reported higher levels of job satisfaction and feeling more valued by their organisation compared to pre-pandemic levels. Younger participants and those identifying as Pacific, Asian or another non-Māori ethnic minority group experienced poorer outcomes relating to job satisfaction and sense of value in their organisation at Alert Levels 3 and 2 compared to prior to the pandemic and Alert Level 1.
  • Perceived Discrimination – reports of gender- and ethnic-based discrimination were higher across the Alert Levels compared with before the pandemic. Women reported increased rates of gender-based discrimination at Alert Level 4 that persisted through Alert Levels 3 and 2. This was likely due to the higher job loss rates and domestic and parenting burdens incurred by women. Māori and those who identified as Pacific, Asian, or another ethnic minority reported increases in ethnic-based discrimination through the Alert Levels and (for Māori) into the second community outbreak.
  • Institutional Trust and National Identification – the Alert Levels were accompanied by a general increase in trust in, and satisfaction with New Zealand’s institutions, with women reporting more trust in politicians and satisfaction with the Government than men.
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