Māori have higher disability rates than non-Māori 8
Disability rates are lower in Auckland 9
About the 2013 Disability Survey 10
More definitions 12
Related links 16
Upcoming releases 16
Past releases 17
Related information 17
Data quality 17
Period-specific information 17
General information 21
In 2013, 24 percent of the New Zealand population were identified as disabled, a total of 1.1 million people.
The increase from the 2001 rate (20 percent) is partly explained by our ageing population.
People aged 65 or over were much more likely to be disabled (59 percent) than adults under 65 years (21 percent) or children under 15 years (11 percent).
Māori and Pacific people had higher-than-average disability rates, after adjusting for differences in ethnic population age profiles.
For adults, physical limitations were the most common type of impairment. Eighteen percent of people aged 15 or over, 64 percent of disabled adults, were physically impaired.
For children, learning difficulty was the most common impairment type. Six percent of children, 52 percent of disabled children, had difficulty learning.
Just over half of all disabled people (53 percent) had more than one type of impairment.
The most common cause of disability for adults was disease or illness (42 percent). For children, the most common cause was a condition that existed at birth (49 percent).
The Auckland regional disability rate, at 19 percent, was lower than the national average. Bay of Plenty and Manawatu-Wanganui (both 27 percent), Northland (29 percent), and Taranaki (30 percent) experienced above-average disability rates.
An easy-read version of key facts and a PDF brochure of key findings from the 2013 Disability Survey are available.
Liz MacPherson, Government Statistician
17 June 2014
New Zealand Disability Survey
In 2013, we carried out a national survey on disability for the fourth time. The New Zealand Disability Survey is currently the most comprehensive source of information on disabled people in New Zealand. It allows for comparisons between disabled and non-disabled people on key social and economic outcomes.
This first release of information from the 2013 Disability Survey focuses on the prevalence of disability across population subgroups and on disability rates for specific impairment types. Information is also available from the survey on barriers that disabled people encounter in their everyday lives, including their use of and need for support services and assistive devices.
Compared with earlier disability surveys, the 2013 Disability Survey includes a greater range of information about social outcomes. In addition to the economic outcomes of labour force status, income, and educational attainment, we now have information about feelings of safety and experience of crime; social contact; and access to leisure activities.
As in the three previous surveys, disability is defined as long-term limitation (resulting from impairment) in a person’s ability to carry out daily activities. The limitations identified were self-reported or reported on behalf of the disabled person by their parent or primary caregiver.
The survey collected data from adults (aged 15 years or over) and children (under 15 years) living in private households or group homes and from adults living in residential care facilities. All of these groups are included in the data, except where stated.
One in four people live with disability
In 2013, an estimated 24 percent of people living in New Zealand were identified as disabled. A total of 1,062,000 people were limited in their ability to carry out everyday activities by at least one impairment type.
Both the number of disabled people and the disability rate are higher than in earlier surveys. The proportion of the New Zealand population in older age groups is growing, and people in these age groups are more likely to be disabled than younger adults or children. However, population ageing does not account for all of the increase. People may be more willing to report their limitations as public perception of disability changes; methodological improvements to the survey could also be a contributing factor.
Number and rate of disabled people for adults, children, and total population, 2001, 2013
Children(1) (0 to 14 years)
Adults (15 years or over)
1. Between 2001 and 2013 we changed the screening questions for children; see the data quality section.
In 2013, 11 percent of children were disabled, compared with 59 percent of people aged 65 or over. Boys were more likely than girls to be disabled (13 percent and 8 percent, respectively). However, there was little difference in disability rates for men and women (aged 15 years and over).
Number and rate of disabled people by age and sex
Under 15 years
15 to 44 years
45 to 64 years
65 years and over
Source: Statistics NZ
Disability rates vary by ethnic group
Disability rates for the four main ethnic groups were:
Māori – 26 percent
European – 25 percent
Pacific – 19 percent
Asian – 13 percent.
Māori had a higher-than-average disability rate, despite having a younger population age profile than that of the total population.
Pacific people also have a young population age profile and the Pacific disability rate was well below the national rate.
The median age of disabled people in each ethnic group was:
Māori – 40 years
European – 57 years
Pacific – 39 years
Asian – 45 years.
The true extent of differences between disability rates for ethnic groups is masked by the different age profile of ethnic populations.
We adjusted disability rates to the age profile of the total population, which gave:
Māori – 32 percent
European – 24 percent
Pacific – 26 percent
Asian – 17 percent.
The age-adjusted rate is the disability rate the ethnic group would have if their population age profile was the same as that of the total population.
The age adjustment increased disability rates for the Māori, Pacific, and Asian ethnic groups, reflecting their younger age profile compared with the total population. The rate increase was smaller for Asian people due to their relatively low disability rates for older people.
Impairment type varies by sex and age
The 2013 Disability Survey asked people about their ability to carry out a range of everyday activities. Each activity was associated with a specific impairment type. Males and females, and adults and children showed differences in the extent to which they experienced different impairment types.
Physical impairment is most common type
An estimated 14 percent of the New Zealand population (632,000 people) reported that a physical impairment limited their everyday activities. This was the most common impairment type for adults (15 years or over), and is one that increases strongly with age. Forty-nine percent of adults aged 65 or over were physically disabled, compared with 7 percent of adults aged less than 45 years.
Women were more likely than men to experience physical disability (20 percent compared with 15 percent). The difference by sex was evident for all adult age groups. Physical disability rates for children were low for both girls and boys (1 percent and 2 percent, respectively).
An estimated 484,000 people (11 percent of the total population) were limited in their everyday activities by sensory impairments (hearing and vision loss) that assistive devices such as hearing aids or glasses did not eliminate. Hearing impairment affected 380,000 people (9 percent of the total population) and vision impairment affected 168,000 people (4 percent).
Hearing impairment was:
more likely to be experienced by men (12 percent) than women (9 percent)
equally likely in boys and girls (1 percent for children)
strongly related to age.
For adults over 65, 34 percent of men and 23 percent of women experienced hearing loss. This compares with 5 percent and 3 percent, respectively, for men and women aged 15 to 44.
Vision impairment was:
more likely to be experienced by women (5 percent) than men (4 percent)
equally likely in boys and girls (1 percent for children)
strongly related to age.
Eleven percent of adults over 65 years experienced vision impairment, compared with 2 percent for adults aged 15 to 44.
Intellectual disability rates low
At 2 percent of the population, rates of intellectual disability were low compared with other types of impairment.
Males were more likely to be living with intellectual disability (3 percent) than females (1 percent). This pattern was evident for both children and adults.
An estimated 5 percent of the New Zealand population (242,000 people) were living with long-term limitations in their daily activities as a result of the effects of psychological and/or psychiatric impairments. Boys were more likely to be affected than girls, with impairment rates of 6 percent and 3 percent, respectively.
There was no difference by sex for adults and, although the adult rate (6 percent) was higher than the child rate (4 percent), the survey provided no evidence of rates changing with age amongst adults.
Four other impairment types were covered by the survey: speaking, learning, memory, and developmental delay.
A total of 358,000 adults and children (8 percent of the population) were limited by at least one of these impairment types, and males (9 percent) were more likely to be affected than females (7 percent).
Having difficulty speaking (and being understood) because of a long-term condition or medical problem affected 3 percent of the total population. Of these:
boys (5 percent) had a higher rate than girls (2 percent)
men (3 percent) had a higher rate than women (2 percent).
Having difficulty learning new things because of a long-term condition or medical problem affected 5 percent of the total population. Of these:
boys (7 percent) had a higher rate than girls (4 percent)
men (5 percent) had a higher rate than women (4 percent).
Questions about memory loss were only asked of adults. Five percent of the adult population had ongoing difficulty with their ability to remember. This impairment type rises with age. Ten percent of people aged 65 or over were affected, compared with 5 percent of those aged 45 to 64, and 2 percent of those aged 15 to 44. There were no differences by sex.
Questions about developmental delay are only asked of parents or caregivers who are responding on behalf of a child in their care. Rates were low, with only 1 percent of children affected by a diagnosed disorder or impairment that significantly delayed their development.
Multiple impairment is common
About half of all disabled people reported living with limitations arising from more than one impairment type. Forty-seven percent of disabled people indicated that they were limited by a single impairment type, while the remaining 53 percent were limited by more than one impairment type.
For adults, multiple impairment increases with age. Forty-two percent of adults aged 15 to 44 years reported being limited by more than one impairment type, compared with 63 percent of older adults (65 or over). Forty-eight percent of children had multiple impairments.
Main limitation is most likely to be physical
Physical impairment is the most common main limitation for disabled people. For an estimated 404,000 people (43 percent of the disabled population) physical limitation was either their only impairment, or was more limiting than the other impairments with which they were living.
For children, learning, psychological/psychiatric, and speaking difficulties were the three most common main impairments.
Forty-one percent of the disabled population were limited in their daily lives by impairments that resulted from disease or illness. This was the most common cause of disabling impairment for adults (42 percent).
Accident or injury was another common cause of impairment for adults. Thirty-four percent of disabled adults were limited in their everyday lives as a result of an accident or injury. Almost half (47 percent) of adults impaired by accident or injury reported that the damage occurred at work.
The third-most common cause of impairment for adults was ageing. For 31 percent of disabled adults, ageing was the cause of at least one of the limitations they experienced. For all adults aged 65 years or over, 53 percent were limited by impairments caused by ageing.
For children, conditions that existed at birth were the most common cause of limiting impairments. Forty-nine percent of disabled children were affected by such impairments. For 33 percent of disabled children, the cause of their impairment fell under ‘other cause’. This includes conditions on the autism spectrum, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and developmental delay, as well as dyslexia and dyspraxia. While these conditions may have existed at birth they are not usually identified until later, and may be regarded by parents or caregivers as not having been present at birth.
Māori have higher disability rates than non-Māori
Māori were more likely to be disabled (26 percent) than non-Māori (24 percent).
Māori adults had a disability rate of 32 percent, compared with 27 percent for non-Māori adults.
Māori children had a disability rate of 15 percent, compared with 9 percent for non-Māori children.
The Māori disability rate was driven by four impairment types that were significantly more likely to be experienced by Māori than non-Māori. These types were:
Māori also had slightly higher rates of vision impairment and slightly lower rates of mobility impairment than non-Māori.
The difference between disability rates for Māori men (32 percent) and Māori women (31 percent) was not significant. Māori boys, however, experienced disability at a higher rate than Māori girls (19 percent and 10 percent, respectively). The difference between boys and girls was driven by the same four impairment types as above: psychological/psychiatric impairments, learning, speaking, and intellectual disability.
Disability rates are lower in Auckland
Disability rates differ by region. The Auckland rate (19 percent) was significantly lower than the national average, while Bay of Plenty and Manawatu-Wanganui (both at 27 percent), Northland (29 percent), and Taranaki (30 percent) all experienced disability rates that were significantly higher than average. For the remaining regions, disability rates did not differ significantly from the national rate.
Regional information is available for adults and children living in households. The 4 percent of disabled adults living in residential care facilities are not included in the regional figures.
1. Includes Nelson, Tasman, Marlborough, and the West Coast regions.
The younger age structure of the Auckland population partly explains the lower Auckland disability rate. The Auckland region had lower-than-average rates for:
hearing impairment (7 percent)
mobility impairment (10 percent)
agility impairment (5 percent)
psychological/psychiatric impairment (4 percent)
difficulties with speaking (2 percent).
People living in Northland had higher-than-average rates for physical limitations (19 percent) and learning difficulties (7 percent). Canterbury had a higher-than-average rate for psychological/psychiatric impairment (7 percent).
For more detailed data see the Excel tables in the ‘Downloads’ box.