The New Zealand Family since 1840: A Demographic History.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Roberts, Evan
Pub Date: 06/22/2009
Publication: Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529
Issue: Date: Summer, 2009 Source Volume: 42 Source Issue: 4
Topic: NamedWork: The New Zealand Family Since 1840: A Demographic History (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Pool, Ian; Dharmalingam, Arunachalam; Sceats, Janet
Accession Number: 202479954
Full Text: The New Zealand Family since 1840: A Demographic History. By Ian Pool, Arunachalam Dharmalingam, and Janet Sceats (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2007. 474 pp. $50.00).

The New Zealand Family Since 1840 fills a substantial gap in New Zealand historiography, being the first comprehensive monograph on New Zealand's demo-graphic history. Anyone researching New Zealand social or economic history should read it, as well as scholars of demographic history in North America, Britain and Ireland, and Australia. Weighing in at 474 pages, plus two web-based documentary appendices, this is a large book for a small country. The heft of the volume is due, in part, to there being two demographic histories of New Zealand. The Pakeha--European immigrants and their descendents--history is quite different from the Maori--the indigenous people of New Zealand--history. It is only in the last two decades that the family forms and structures of Maori and Pakeha have begun to look enough alike that one might talk about a New Zealand demographic pattern with some ethnic divergence, instead of two groups with quite different demographic behavior.

While the book fulfils its title, describing the New Zealand family since 1840, the book concentrates on the period after World War II. In analyzing the earlier period, the authors do an admirable job with a paucity of data. Like Australia, but unlike the other English speaking countries (comparators used so often the term is abbreviated to ESC), the New Zealand census manuscripts were destroyed. Microdata samples of the census have contributed an enotmous amount to our understanding of demographic behavior in North America and Britain. Without census samples, the authors are reliant for historical data on contemporary tabulations made from the census, and from the vital registration records. New Zealand's vital registration was of a high standard from early in the country's history, and the individual records survive well into the nineteenth century. More historians should explore the dynamics of early New Zealand families with these data. (1) Even after World War II data availability is comparatively limited. There are no public use samples of the census, and few other surveys until the 1970s. Thus, the analysis of family formation and fertility behavior in the last 30-40 years draws extensively on two surveys conducted in the 1990s that asked retrospective questions about union formation and fertility.

Throughout the book--from 1840 to the present--the authors argue that New Zealand has seen very rapid swings in demographic behavior. Until the late 1870s early marriage for Pakeha was followed by hyper-fertility--the total fertility rate was 7-but then fertility halved by 1901. It kept dropping, at a slower pace, until the mid-1930s. As in the other English-speaking countries, fertility followed marriage. Thus, declines in the propensity to marry at young ages saw general fertility follow marital fertility down. After World War II, the Pakeha baby boom was similar to that experienced in Australia, Canada and the United States. A "baby bust" since 1973-though interrupted by a "baby blip" in the late 1980s--sees New Zealand with sustained below-replacement fertility levels. The authors emphasize that the current moral panic over low fertility echo the same panic in other low-fertility western countries, and similar to panics in New Zealand in the 1930s.

Maori demographic patterns were quite different. The authors draw substantially on Ian Pool's 1991 monograph Te Iwi Maori, to describe Maori demographic history before World War II. Maori sustained a high fertility rate (total fertility rates between 5 and 7) for a century between 1860 and 1960. High infant and child mortality before World War II meant that the Maori population grew only slowly despite such high fertility. Early mortality dropped rapidly after World War II, and Maori went through a very rapid demographic transition. Total fertility rates dropped to below 3, and the Maori population moved to the cities rapidly. The social and political consequences of these demographic changes have been profound, and the authors comprehensively outline the connections between demographic history and social history. They frequently conclude with the modest note that the task of interpreting the connections between demography, society, and politics remains for other historians.

Despite the paucity of data before World War II--or perhaps because this has deterred many scholars--The New Zealand Family makes its strongest contributions by connecting demography, society, and politics over the century to 1940. Too much New Zealand historiography places the state in a central role, even in the area of family history. Erik Olssen's 1978 article, widely regarded as having instigated the history of the family in New Zealand, conflated family history with the history of state polices that affected families at the margin. (2) The confusion has been carried forth by a generation of scholars. By emphasizing instead the historical role of attitudes and values, The New Zealand Family may help redirect family history in New Zealand away from the state and towards the family itself.

Alongside the emphasis on rapid swings in demographic behavior, the authors also stress the importance of "reproductive polarization" during the early and late twentieth century declines in fertility. Reproductive polarization occurs when there is greater variation in the number of children women have. In the early twentieth century, reproductive polarization occurred when a substantial minority of women married late, or not at all. With fertility regulated by marriage, these women had few or no children. Since the 1970s fertility has become increasingly separated from marriage, a development shared with other English speaking countries. As in these countries, the age of child bearing is now strongly influenced by women's educational and employment opportunities and choices.

The New Zealand Family deserves a wide audience from New Zealand historians and historical demographers in other developed countries. The authors have provided a sturdy platform for other historians to further analyze the connections between family change, and social and political change.

The intellectual contributions of this book were not matched by the production values. The copy-editing does not meet the standards expected from a university press. There are frequent minor errors in the citations and bibliography. The authors must know that the provinces were abolished in 1876, not 1885 (p.155). Auckland University Press embarrasses them by making it appear otherwise.


(1.) For an example of what is possible with the New Zealand registration data, see D.G. Pearson, Johnsonville, continuity and change in a New Zealand township (Sydney, 1980).

(2.) Erik Olssen and Andree Levesquc, "Towards a History of the European Family in New Zealand" in Families in New Zealand Sncicr-. Peggy Koopman-Boyden (ed) (Welling ton, 1978): 1-26.

Evan Roberts

Victorian University of Wellington
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