Data Collection

GSS 2021 Data Collection

GSS 2021 Data Collection en-NZ
GSS 2021 Data Collection en-NZ




The General Social Survey (GSS) provides information on the wellbeing of New Zealanders. It covers a wide range of life domains, including health, material living standards, paid work, social connectedness, housing, safety and security, civic and human rights, culture and identity, and subjective wellbeing. The target population is the usually resident New Zealand population aged 15 years and over, in private dwellings in the North and South islands and Waiheke Island.

The objectives of the GSS are to:

• provide a picture of the changes in wellbeing for New Zealanders

• understand and monitor the distribution of wellbeing across population groups of interest

• contribute to understanding the interrelationships between different aspects of wellbeing.

We release information from the GSS on the Stats NZ website, under wellbeing statistics.

Survey content

We use computer-assisted personal interviews (CAPI), which last around 50 minutes. The survey consists of three questionnaires: the Household Questionnaire (HQ), the Personal Questionnaire (PQ) and the Demographic Questionnaire (DQ). One individual in the household completes the HQ, which collects information about the household and all the usually resident people in it, such as family relationships and household income.

We then randomly select one individual in the household aged 15 years or over to answer the PQ and DQ. The PQ collects information on a range of wellbeing related topics, such as overall life satisfaction, self-rated health, social contact, and loneliness. The DQ is the last questionnaire, and collects demographic information, such as qualifications, sex at birth, and gender. It is usually completed by the respondent themselves, but can be assisted by the interviewer if necessary.

Primary content

Topics in the primary content of the GSS include:

• Subjective wellbeing (new: positive and negative affect, optimism about the future, sense of control)

• Labour market (new: work-life balance satisfaction)

• Satisfaction with free time (new)

• Health

• Disability (new: Washington Group Enhanced Short Set)

• Te Reo Māori

• Culture and identity

• Trust

• Voting

• Material standard of living

• Satisfaction with the natural environment (new)

• Housing

• Emergency preparedness (new)

• Safety and security

• Acceptance of diversity

• Discrimination

• Family wellbeing (new: family functioning)

• Social connectedness

• Demographics (new: sex at birth, gender)

• Sense of belonging to New Zealand

Survey supplement

The General Social Survey has a rotating survey supplement. The supplement topics for 2021 were:

• Language

• Voluntary work

• Characteristics of social networks

• Cultural participation

• Social identity

New additions

The 2021 GSS includes some additions to the primary content. Some of these topics are new to the GSS while others have been included in earlier iterations of the survey. The new topics include:

• Additional subjective wellbeing measures

• Family functioning

• Satisfaction with time and environment

• Emergency preparedness

Subjective wellbeing measures

New subjective wellbeing questions were added to this survey to better understand New Zealander’s experiences. These include questions covering the three dimensions of wellbeing: evaluative (how satisfied you are with your life), eudemonic (to what extent you have meaning and purpose in your life) and affective experience (how you are feeling right now). The new measures include expectation of overall life satisfaction in five years (optimism about the future), sense of control, and how anxious and happy people felt the previous day (positive and negative affect).

Family functioning

Questions about family functioning were also added to the GSS in 2021. We chose to include these measures as, for many people, family (biological or chosen) is a key source of support and connection. They are part of the family wellbeing module, and include questions about the respondent’s ability to communicate and be themselves with family. The questions included are from the General Functioning (GF6+) subscale of the McMaster Family Assessment Device (FAD).

Satisfaction with time and environment

Satisfaction with time allows us to understand respondents’ balance between their working lives and their lives outside of work (satisfaction with work-life balance), and whether they are happy with the amount of free time they have (satisfaction with free time). This helps us understand if participants are overworked or under stress, and how this relates to the other wellbeing measures.

Satisfaction with the natural environment (replacing other questions about the environment) measures participants satisfaction with the state of natural spaces such as rivers, coastlines, forests, and bush.

Emergency preparedness

Emergency preparedness asks respondents whether they have enough food and water for three days. This is useful for understanding how prepared the country is in case of a natural disaster.

Changes to the survey content

Some questions have been changed or expanded in this GSS. These include:

• Disability

• Sex at birth and Gender

The previous two GSSs included the Washington Group Short Set (WGSS) of questions on disability, which asked respondents about difficulties they have doing certain activities: seeing (even with glasses), hearing (even with hearing aids), walking or climbing stairs, remembering or concentrating, self-care, and communicating. The Washington Group Enhanced Short Set of questions has been included in this GSS, which contains additional questions on upper body functioning, fine motor skills, and experience of anxiety or depression. These questions identify a broader group of disabled people than in previous data collections.

In previous GSS collections, we asked respondents whether they were male or female. This was ambiguous, as it was not clear whether this meant gender or sex at birth, and did not allow non-binary and trans individuals to be counted in the data. The 2021 GSS includes questions on sex at birth (male, female, another term, or prefer not to say) and gender (male, female, or another gender), replacing the previously used question. For more information, see our statistical standards.

Data Collection

COVID-19: Impacts to the survey collection

The GSS relies on face-to-face interviews in people’s homes, so can only be collected when this is safe for both interviewers and respondents. The 12-month survey collection period for this GSS was initially planned to start in April 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was delayed by one year. Collection of the GSS started on 1 April 2021 but was cut short due to the first community outbreak of the Delta variant. Collection stopped on 17 August 2021.

Consequently, our sample size was reduced to just under 3,500 from the planned 8,000-8,500. This sample was representative of the total population in geographic and key demographic terms, and investigations into the impact of seasonality identified limited impacts on data quality. However, due to the reduced sample size and collection period, extra caution should be taken when comparing to previous years.

The reduced sample size means the sampling error is higher than the survey is designed for. Larger sampling errors mean estimates are less sensitive to change, and differences between groups are less likely to be statistically significant. In particular, estimates for smaller population groups, like disabled people or for some regions, may have particularly large sampling errors associated with them. Changes that are not statistically significant (even if large) may be due to differences in the samples selected, rather than real-world change.

Sample design information

The GSS uses a three-stage sample selection method, similar to our other household surveys. For the first stage, we select a total of 1,146 primary sampling units (PSUs) from the Household Survey Frame (HSF). The HSF is the standard sampling frame we use to select samples and to manage overlap control for all our household surveys. The HSF lists PSUs with attributes determined by data from the census. We then assign PSUs to standard strata based on these attributes.

The second stage of sample selection consists of selecting eligible dwellings within the selected PSUs. In the third stage, we select one eligible individual within each selected household. The eligible individual is chosen at random from all eligible individuals in the household. The GSS is designed to provide estimates at a national level.

Sample population

The survey population for the GSS is the usually resident New Zealand population aged 15 years and over, in private dwellings in the North Island, South Island, or Waiheke Island.

The survey population includes:

• New Zealand usual residents temporarily overseas

• New Zealand usual residents temporarily staying elsewhere in New Zealand (including other permanent and temporary private dwellings, institutions, and non-private dwellings; and people who have no fixed abode, but are found in private dwellings on the household enumeration date)

• people in the New Zealand armed forces if they reside in a private dwelling, and young adults at boarding schools.

The survey population excludes:

• overseas visitors and international students who expect to be resident in New Zealand for less than 12 months

• people living in non-private dwellings such as hotels, motels, boarding houses, hostels; homes for the elderly, patients in hospitals, or residents of psychiatric and penal institutions; and people living on offshore islands (excluding Waiheke Island)

• members of the non-New Zealand armed forces and their dependants; and non-New Zealand diplomats or diplomatic staff members and their dependants

• New Zealand usual residents temporarily overseas who do not return within the survey period

• New Zealand usual residents temporarily staying elsewhere in New Zealand (including other permanent and temporary private dwellings, institutions, and non-private dwellings; and people who have no fixed abode, but stay at private dwellings) who don't return within the survey period

• New Zealand usual residents who live in remote areas that are costly or difficult to access.

Response rate and sample population

The achieved sample rate (ASR) was 67.4 percent (unweighted), and the survey response rate was 75.9 percent (weighted). The ASR measures how many eligible households responded to the survey, as a proportion of all dwellings sampled. The survey response rate is the weighted percentage of eligible individuals who responded to the survey, divided by the estimated number of eligible individuals.

The achieved sample rate differs from the response rate because it includes the ineligible dwellings in the denominator. This difference means that the response rate is particularly sensitive to the classification of household eligibility. As a result, the achieved sample rate is more stable over time than the response rate. The sample size was approximately 5,170 households.

Data Processing

Non-response and imputation

Despite our best efforts, there will always be a proportion of households that cannot be contacted or do not respond to the survey. There are two types of non-response: total or unit non-response (when no information is collected on a sampled unit or where the amount or quality of the information supplied is insufficient to be a response) and partial or item non-response (where the absence of information is limited only to some variables). With respect to unit non-response in general, the effects of this are minimised by applying a non-response adjustment within our weighting procedure.

We also use a non-response indicator to identify and remove ‘low-quality’ responses. To be counted as a ‘response’, a person must have given a valid answer for at least 4 of 8 key variables: overall life satisfaction, life worthwhile, self-rated health status, generalised trust, experience of discrimination, crimes committed against you, income adequacy, and housing condition. Respondents who do not satisfy this criterion will not be assigned a weight in the estimation process, and will not be included in further analysis.

With respect to item non-response, we impute for certain key variables in the GSS critical for either the weighting procedure (in which a complete record is required among the respondents) or outputs. The process of imputation replaces missing or particularly suspicious values (for example, if someone accidently recorded their age as 200) with values present within the data of similar respondents. For this GSS we imputed for the following variables: age, sex at birth, gender, ethnicity, and income.


Weighting is used in the GSS to ensure that estimates account for the sample design, adjust for non-response, and align with expected population totals or benchmarks. The benchmarks used in the GSS are estimates of the total population by age, sex, region, Māori by broad age band, and household type, which ensures the estimates reflect the total population distribution for key groups. This process adjusts for any groups with less coverage in the sample selected due to non-response or coverage across the country.

The survey has two sets of weights attached, one for the household and one for the person. We use the household weight to describe the attributes of a household; for example, the proportion of households have dependent children who live outside that household. We use the person weight to describe the attributes of a person; for example, how many people are ‘very satisfied’ with their life overall.


Reliability of survey estimates

Two types of error are possible in estimates based on a sample survey: sampling error and non-sampling error. Sampling error can be measured and quantifies the variability that occurs by chance because a sample rather than an entire population is surveyed.

Non-sampling errors are all errors that are not sampling errors. These errors are not quantifiable and include unintentional mistakes by respondents, variation in the respondent's and interviewer's interpretation of the questions asked, and errors in recording and coding data. We endeavour to minimise the impact of these errors by applying best survey practices and monitoring known indicators (i.e., non-response).

We estimate sampling errors using a jack-knife method, which is based on the variation between estimates and on taking 100 mutually exclusive subsamples from the whole sample. Sampling errors are quoted at the 95 percent confidence level. For example, if the estimated total proportion of people is 27.1 percent, and the estimate is subject to a sampling error of plus or minus 1.4 percent (measured at the 95 percent confidence level), that shows there is a 95 percent chance that the true proportion lies between 25.7 and 28.5 percent.

As the size of the sampled group decreases, the relative sampling errors (RSEs – sample error as a percentage of the estimate) will generally increase. For example, estimates for Pacific peoples would have a larger RSE than those for Europeans.

The absolute sampling errors are available in the published tables. Estimates with RSEs between 50 and 100 percent are flagged with double asterisks **, while estimates with RSEs over 100 percent are flagged with triple asterisks ***. We advise caution in using estimates with large RSEs, particularly those over 100 percent, as they are considered unreliable for most uses.

Suppressed estimates

Data in the Wellbeing Statistics 2021 information release are suppressed if the weighted count is less than 1,000 or if the unweighted cell count is five or less people or households. This ensures the privacy of the respondents is maintained.

Customised data

The tables in the Wellbeing Statistics information release do not contain all possible analyses of GSS data. Data requests can be customised to customers' specifications. Contact for more information.


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