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Households' attitudes to savings, investment and wealth

Janice Burns, Maire Dwyer

Household saving – the difference between household disposable income and household consumption – has declined over the last two decades and now appears to be negative. On the other hand, household wealth has risen. This has been due to rises in house prices, which have pushed up the equity held by households in residential property. While a downward trend in household saving is evident across many developed countries, New Zealand’s household saving rate has been among the lowest, or the lowest, for much of the last 20 years. Also, New Zealand households have lower levels of wealth than households in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US. While New Zealanders’ wealth in housing, as a proportion of disposable income, is around the same as for these other countries, it seems that on average New Zealand households own less financial wealth (e.g. shares and bonds). In view of this pattern, the Economics Department of the Reserve Bank decided to undertake a small-scale exploratory study of households’ attitudes to various forms of investment. The idea behind this work was to get a view, from a sociological perspective rather than an economic perspective, on why wealth in New Zealand is held in the way it is. This perspective contributes to the Economic Department’s ongoing programme of work on the financial position of households.