Five reasons for high life expectancy in New Zealand

Many countries look toward New Zealand harboring feelings of envy. Why? Let’s see: there’s the endless, rolling Middle Earth landscape; there’s the obviously more hospitable weather; and there’s the small matter of the rugby team being very close to invincible.

But a lesser known fact about New Zealand is that it is a major player when it comes to quality and longevity of life too. New Zealand ranked first in last year’s Legatum Prosperity Index , which takes into account various factors including health, education and social environment; and a recent comparison of average life expectancy figures showed that New Zealand, at 80.93, trumped several Western countries including the United Kingdom, Ireland and the US.

So what is it about New Zealand that is so conducive to health and longevity?

High literacy rate

There has been a link established in many studies between literacy and life expectancy; those with better educational attainment are thought to live for longer for several reasons. Education better enables social mobility, earning potential, and quality of life, and is beneficial to mental health too.

A contributing factor behind New Zealand’s impressive longevity figures then might be its high literacy rate: 99% according to Knoema , and placing 15th in the world in a recent analysis of global literacy.


How can a country’s scenery contribute to longer life expectancy? Simple: by offering us mental breathing space.

Being close to nature is thought to play a pivotal role in maintaining good mental well-being, as evidenced by research from the University of Essex and mental health charity Mind. Walking in the countryside and connecting with nature can help us to de-stress, and put some distance between us and our daily routine.

Britain, USA and Australia have their fair share when it comes to nature, but New Zealand is certainly not in short supply. Anyone looking to escape the pressures of everyday life has plenty of space to do so in the green and idyllic expanses on offer.

Work-life balance

Professional psychology and working culture can have a profound effect on quality of life. Achieving a good work-life balance in some countries can be particularly difficult if the standard number of allotted holidays is comparatively low. Working longer hours is more likely to induce stress and poor dietary habits, and this can domino into more serious health problems.

And when it comes to separating the professional and personal, New Zealand strikes a better equilibrium than most other countries. In a recent survey undertaken by HSBC , New Zealand placed third out of nearly 50 nations for ‘work/life balance’. The number of minimum paid holiday days at 31 is also higher than the number offered in the UK (28), and USA (10).

Low population density

While some of us may thrive in busy environments, it’s no secret that overcrowding can have a negative impact on our health for several reasons. Locations with a high population density can sometimes do more to predispose those living there to communicable illnesses and mental health pressures, which can have an adverse effect on longevity.

New Zealand’s population is low, particularly when compared to other first world countries across the globe: with a population of 46 per square mile, New Zealand places 202nd out of 246 countries and territories for population density. Take the UK as a direct comparison for example, who is much higher up the table, in 51st place with 694 people per square mile.

High air quality score

One other aspect of high population density is the effect on pollution levels and air quality score; another area in which New Zealand outperforms most other countries in the world.

The effects of pollution on long-term health are obvious and well established. Poor air quality increases the risk of harmful respiratory conditions, and can be damaging to our immune systems too.

With an air quality score of 95.67, New Zealand ranks 7th in the Environmental Performance Index , making it one of the cleanest places to breathe in the world, and perhaps one of the least conducive to pollution-related health issues.