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The Netherlands performs very well in overall well-being, as shown by the fact that it ranks among the top countries in a large number of topics in the Better Life Index.
Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards. In the Netherlands, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is 25 493 USD a year, more than the OECD average of 23 047 USD a year. But there is a considerable gap between the richest and poorest – the top 20% of the population earn nearly five times as much as the bottom 20%.
In terms of employment, nearly 75% of people aged 15 to 64 in the Netherlands have a paid job, above the OECD employment average of 66%. Some 80% of men are in paid work, compared with 70% of women. People in the Netherlands work 1 379 hours a year, less than the OECD average of 1 776 hours. Very few employees work very long hours, compared with 9% on average across the OECD.
Having a good education is an important requisite for finding a job. In the Netherlands, 73% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, close to the OECD average of 74%. This is slightly truer of men than women, as 75% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 71% of women. In terms of the quality of the education system, the average student scored 519 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This score is higher than the OECD average of 497, making the Netherlands one of the strongest OECD countries in students’ skills. There is hardly any difference between the performances of boys and girls, compared with an average OECD gap of 9 points in favour of girls.
In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in the Netherlands is 81 years, one year higher than the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 83 years, compared with 79 for men. The level of atmospheric PM10 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 30 micrograms per cubic meter, considerably higher than the OECD average of 21 micrograms per cubic meter. The Netherlands perform better in terms of water quality, as 90% of people say they are satisfied with the quality of their water, higher than the 84% OECD average.
Concerning the public sphere, there is a strong sense of community and high levels of civic participation in the Netherlands, where 94% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, higher than the OECD average of 90%. Voter turnout, a measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process, was 75% during recent elections; this figure is higher than the OECD average of 72%. Social and economic status can affect voting rates; voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is 85% and for the bottom 20% it is 65%. This 20 percentage point difference is much larger than the OECD average difference of 12 percentage points, and points to shortcomings in the political mobilisation of those of lower socio-economic status.
In general, 86% of people in the Netherlands say they have more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc), more than the OECD average of 80%.
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Netherlands in Detail
Housing – Netherlands expand
Living in satisfactory housing conditions is one of the most important aspects of people’s lives. Housing is essential to meet basic needs, such as shelter, but it is not just a question of four walls and a roof. Housing should offer a place to sleep and rest where people feel safe and have privacy and personal space; somewhere they can raise a family. All of these elements help make a house a home. And of course there is the question whether people can afford adequate housing.
Housing costs take up a large share of the household budget and represent the largest single expenditure for many individuals and families, by the time you add up elements such as rent, gas, electricity, water, furniture or repairs. In the Netherlands, households on average spend 20% of their gross adjusteddisposable income on keeping a roof over their heads, slightly lower than the OECD average of 21%.
In addition to housing costs it is also important to examine living conditions, such as the average number of rooms shared per person and whether households have access to basic facilities. In the Netherlands, 92% of people say they are satisfied with their current housing situation, more than the OECD average of 87%. This high level of subjective satisfaction reflects the Netherlands’ good performance in objective housing indicators.
The number of rooms in a dwelling, divided by the number of persons living there, indicates whether residents are living in crowded conditions. Overcrowded housing may have a negative impact on physical and mental health, relations with others and children’s development. In addition, dense living conditions are often a sign of inadequate water and sewage supply. In the Netherlands, the average home contains 2.0 rooms per person, more than the OECD average of 1.6 rooms per person. In terms of basic facilities, nearly every dwelling in the Netherlands contains private access to an indoor flushing toilet, compared with an OECD average of 97.8%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Income – Netherlands expand
While money may not buy happiness, it is an important means to achieving higher living standards and thus greater well-being. Higher economic wealth may also improve access to quality education, healthcare and housing.
Household net-adjusted disposable income is the amount of money that a household earns each year after tax. It represents the money available to a household for spending on goods or services. In the Netherlands, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is 25 493 USD a year, higher than the OECD average of 23 047 USD.
Household financial wealth is the total value of a household’s financial worth. In the Netherlands, the average household net financial wealth is estimated at 66 869 USD, much higher than the OECD average of 40 516 USD. While the ideal measure of household wealth should include real assets (e.g. land and dwellings), such information is currently available for only a small number of OECD countries.
Despite a general increase in living standards across OECD countries over the past fifteen years, not all people have benefited from this to the same extent. In the Netherlands, the average net adjusted disposable income of the top 20% of the population is an estimated 48 114 USD a year, whereas the bottom 20% live on an estimated 11 185 USD a year.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Jobs – Netherlands expand
Having a job brings many important benefits, including: providing a source of income, improving social inclusion, fulfilling one’s own aspirations, building self-esteem and developing skills and competencies. In the Netherlands, nearly 75% of the working-age population aged 15 to 64 has a paid job. This figure is much higher than the OECD employment average of 66%. Employment rates are generally higher for individuals with a higher level of education; in the Netherlands, an estimated 87% of individuals with at least a tertiary education have a paid job, compared with an estimated 59% for those without an upper secondary education. This 28 percentage point difference is lower than the OECD average of 37 percentage points and suggests the job market in the Netherlands is relatively inclusive.
Women are still less likely than men to participate in the labour market. In the Netherlands, 70% of women have jobs. This is more than the OECD average of 60% but less than the 80% employment rate of men in the Netherlands. This 10 percentage point gender difference, however, is slightly lower than the OECD average of 12 percentage points and suggests the Netherlands could further improve employment opportunities for women but have generally been successful in addressing the constraints and barriers women face in accessing work.
Young people aged 15-24 in the Netherlands, face an unemployment rate of 7.7% compared with the OECD average of 16.2%.
Unemployed persons are defined as those who are not currently working but are willing to do so and actively searching for work. Long-term unemployment can have a large negative effect on feelings of well-being and self-worth and result in a loss of skills, further reducing employability. In the Netherlands, the percentage of the labour force that has been unemployed for a year or longer is currently at 1.5%, lower than the OECD average of 3.1%. There is little difference on average between men and women in the OECD area when it comes to long-term unemployment. This is true in the Netherlands, where the long-term unemployment rate for men and women is nearly the same at respectively 1.6% and 1.4%.
The wages and other monetary benefits that come with employment are an important aspect of job quality. In the Netherlands, people earn 44 321 US dollars per year on average, more than the OECD average of 34 466 USD. Not everyone earns that amount however. Whereas the top 20% of the population earn 55 029 USD per year, the bottom 20% live on 28 345 USD per year.
Another essential factor of employment quality is job security. Employees working on temporary contracts are more vulnerable than workers with an open-ended contract. In the Netherlands, close to 9% of total employees have a contract of 6 months or less, slightly lower than the average of 10% for 30 OECD countries. This figure suggests the Netherlands have been successful in stabilising working contracts and encouraging open-ended contracts.
More ResourcesWell‑being in the workplace: Measuring job quality
Community – Netherlands expand
Humans are social creatures. The frequency of our contact with others and the quality of our personal relationships are thus crucial determinants of our well-being. Helping others can also make you happier. People who volunteer tend to be more satisfied with their lives than those who do not. Time spent volunteering also contributes to a healthy civil society. On average, people in Netherlands spend 5 minutes per day in volunteering activities, more than the OECD average of 4 minutes per day. Around 57% reported having helped a stranger in the last month, more than the OECD average of 48%.
A strong social network, or community, can provide emotional support during both good and bad times as well as provide access to jobs, services and other material opportunities. In the Netherlands, 94% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need, more than the OECD average of 90%. There is little difference between men and women, as 93% of men believe they have this kind of social support, compared with 94% of women. While gender has little impact on social network support, there is a relationship between the availability of social support on the one hand, and people’s education level on the other. In the Netherlands, around 86% of people who have completed primary education report having someone to count on for help in times of need, compared to over 95% for people who attained tertiary education.
A weak social network can result in limited economic opportunities, a lack of contact with others, and eventually, feelings of isolation. Socially isolated individuals face difficulties integrating into society as a contributing member and fulfilling personal aspirations.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance OECD Insights: Human Capital
Education – Netherlands expand
A well-educated and well-trained population is essential for a country’s social and economic well-being. Education plays a key role in providing individuals with the knowledge, skills and competences needed to participate effectively in society and in the economy. Most concretely, having a good education greatly improves the likelihood of finding a job and earning enough money. Across OECD countries, 83% of people with university-level degrees have a job, compared with just below 56% for those with only a secondary school diploma. Lifetime earnings also increase with each level of education.
Following a decline in manual labour over previous decades, employers now favour a more educated labour force. High-school graduation rates therefore provide a good indication of whether a country is preparing its students to meet the minimum requirements of the job market. In the Netherlands, 73% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, close to the OECD average of 74%. This is truer of men than women, as 75% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 71% of women. This 4 percentage point difference is slightly larger than the OECD average gap of 2 percentage points. Among younger people – a better indicator of the Netherlands’ future – 83% of 25-34 year-olds have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, slightly more than the OECD average of 82%.
People in the Netherlands can expect to go through 17.8 years of education between the ages of 5 and 39, more than the OECD average of 16.5 years. This high level of education expectancy echoes the Netherlands’ good performance in the educational attainment of its 25-34 year-old population.
But graduation rates, while important, speak little to the quality of education received. The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reviews the extent to which students have acquired some of the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies. In 2009, PISA focused on examining students’ reading ability, skills in maths and level in sciences, as research shows that these skills are more reliable predictors of economic and social well-being than the number of years spent in school.
The average student in the Netherlands scored 519 in reading literacy, maths and sciences, higher than the OECD average of 497. On average in the Netherlands, girls outperformed boys but only by 1 point, much lessthan the average OECD gap of 9.
The best-performing school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students. In the Netherlands, the average difference in results, between the 20% with the highest socio-economic background and the 20% with the lowest socio-economic background, is 97 points, slightly lower than the OECD average of 99 points. This suggests the school system in the Netherlands provides relatively equal access to high-quality education.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Environment – Netherlands expand
The quality of our local living environment has a direct impact on our health. Having access to green spaces for example, is essential for quality of life. An unspoiled environment is a source of satisfaction, improves mental well-being, allows people to recover from the stress of everyday life and to perform physical activity. In the Netherlands, 13% of people feel they lack access to green spaces or recreational areas, slightly more than the 12 % average of OECD European countries.
Outdoor air pollution is one important environmental issue that directly affects the quality of peoples’ lives. Despite national and international interventions and decreases in major pollutant emissions, the health impacts of urban air pollution continue to worsen, with air pollution set to become the top environmental cause of premature mortality globally by 2050. Air pollution in urban centres, often caused by transport and the use of small-scale burning of wood or coal, is linked to a range of health problems, from minor eye irritation to upper respiratory symptoms in the short-term and chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer in the long-term. Children and the elderly may be particularly vulnerable.
PM10 – tiny particulate matter small enough to be inhaled into the deepest part of the lung – is monitored in OECD countries because it can harm human health and reduce life expectancy. In the Netherlands, PM10 levels are 29.6 micrograms per cubic meter, much higher than the OECD average of 20.9 micrograms per cubic meter and the annual guideline limit of 20 micrograms per cubic meter set by the World Health Organization.
Access to clean water is fundamental to human well-being. Despite significant progress in OECD countries in reducing water pollution, improvements in freshwater quality are not always easy to discern. In the Netherlands, 90% of people say they are satisfied with water quality. This figure is higher than the OECD average of 84% and suggests the Netherlands has been successful in providing good quality water to its inhabitants.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance OECD Environmental Outlook to 2030
Governance – Netherlands expand
A cohesive society is one where citizens have a high degree of confidence in their governmental institutions and public administration. In the Netherlands 72% of people say they trust their political institutions, more than the OECD average of 56% and one of the highest rates in the OECD area. High voter turnout is another measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process. In the most recent elections for which data is available, voter turnout in the Netherlands was 75% of those registered. This figure is slightly higher than the OECD average of 72%.
Even if the right to vote is universal in all OECD countries, not everyone exercises this right. There is little difference in the voting rates of men and women in most OECD countries. This is the case in the Netherlands, where the voter turnout of men and women is similar, at respectively 74% and 77%. While on average there are few differences between men and women concerning participation in elections, income can have a strong influence on voter turnout. In the Netherlands, voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is an estimated 85%, whereas the participation rate of the bottom 20% is an estimated 65%. This 20 percentage point difference is much higher than the OECD average difference of 12 percentage points, and points to shortcomings in the political mobilisation of those of lower socio-economic status.
Ensuring that government decision making is not compromised by conflicts of interest is key to maintaining trust in government. Transparency is therefore essential to hold government to account and to maintain confidence in public institutions.
Freedom of information laws (FOI) allow the possibility for individuals to access undisclosed information. For such policies to be successful, the public should have a clear understanding of their rights under the law, should be able to file requests with ease and should be protected against any possible retaliation. People in the Netherlands can file a request for information either in writing, online, by telephone or in person – thus greatly facilitating the FOI process. The Netherlands is one of six OECD countries to protect individuals from any possible retaliation, but does not allow for anonymous requests.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Health – Netherlands expand
Most OECD countries have enjoyed large gains in life expectancy over the past decades, thanks to improvements in living conditions, public health interventions and progress in medical care. Life expectancy at birth in the Netherlands stands at 81 years, one year above the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 83 years, compared with 79 for men, a slightly smaller difference than the six-year OECD average gender gap with a life expectancy of 83 years for women and 77 for men.
Higher life expectancy is generally associated with higher healthcare spending per person, although many other factors have an impact on life expectancy (such as living standards, lifestyles, education and environmental factors). Total health spending accounts for 12.0% of GDP in the Netherlands, the second highest rate in the OECD, where average health spending is 9.5% of GDP. The Netherlands also rank well above the OECD average in terms of total health spending per person, at 5056 USD in 2010, compared with an OECD average of 3268 USD. Between 2000 and 2009, total health spending in the Netherlandsincreased in real terms by 6.0% per year on average, a faster growth rate than the OECD average of 4.7%. This growth rate slowed down to 2.5% in 2010.
Throughout the OECD, tobacco consumption and excessive weight gain remain important risk factors for many chronic diseases. In the Netherlands, the rate of daily smokers among adults has fallen from 43.0% in 1980 to 20.9% slightly below the OECD average of 21.1%. In many OECD countries, large proportions of the population are overweight or obese. In the Netherlands, the obesity rate among adults based on self-reported height and weight is 11.4%, below the OECD average of 17.8%. Obesity’s growing prevalence foreshadows increases in the occurrence of health problems (such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and asthma), and higher health care costs in the future.
When asked, “How is your health in general?” 76% of people in the Netherlands reported to be in good health, higher than the OECD average of 69%. Despite the subjective nature of this question, answers have been found to be a good predictor of people’s future health care use. Gender, age and social status may affect answers to this question. On average in OECD countries, men are more likely to report good health than women, with an average of 71% for men and 66% for women. In the Netherlands, the average is 79% for men and 73% for women. Not surprisingly, older people report poorer health, as do those who are unemployed, or who have less education or income. About 87% of the top 20% of the adult population in the Netherlands rate their health as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, compared to about 67% for the bottom 20%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Life Satisfaction – Netherlands expand
Happiness or subjective well-being can be measured in terms of life satisfaction, the presence of positive experiences and feelings, and the absence of negative experiences and feelings. Such measures, while subjective, are a useful complement to objective data to compare the quality of life across countries.
Life satisfaction measures how people evaluate their life as a whole rather than their current feelings. It captures a reflective assessment of which life circumstances and conditions are important for subjective well-being. When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, Dutch people gave it a 7.5 grade, higher than the OECD average of 6.6.
There is little difference in life satisfaction levels between men and women across OECD countries. This is true in the Netherlands, where men gave their life a 7.4 grade and women 7.5. Education levels, however, strongly influence subjective well-being. Whereas people who have only completed primary education in the Netherlands have a life satisfaction level of 6.9, this score reaches 7.7 for people with tertiary education.
Happiness, or subjective well-being, is also measured by the presence of positive experiences and feelings, and/or the absence of negative experiences and feelings. In the Netherlands 86% of people reported having more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc). This figure is higher than the OECD average of 80%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Safety – Netherlands expand
Personal security is a core element for the well-being of individuals, and largely reflects the risks of people being physically assaulted or falling victim to other types of crime. Across the OECD, assault rates have generally declined in the past five years. In the Netherlands, almost 4.9% of people reported falling victim to assault over the previous 12 months, slightly more than the OECD average of 4.0%. There is a 3 percentage point difference between men and women in assault rates, at respectively 6.5% and 3.5%.
The homicide rate (the number of murders per 100,000 inhabitants) is a more reliable measure of a country’s safety level because, unlike other crimes, murders are usually always reported to the police. According to the latest OECD data, the Netherland’s homicide rate is 1.1, lower than the OECD average of 2.2. In the Netherlands, the homicide rate for men is 1.6 compared with 0.6 for women.
Fear of crime is another important indicator as it can constrain behaviour, restrict freedom and threaten the foundation of communities. Despite a general reduction in assault rates in the past five years, in many OECD countries feelings of security have declined. In the Netherlands, 62% of people feel safe walking alone at night, slightly lower than the OECD average of 67%. While men are at a greater risk of being victims of assaults and violent crimes, women report lower feelings of security than men. This has been explained by a greater fear of sexual attacks, the feeling they must also protect their children and their concern that they may be seen as partially responsible.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Work-Life Balance – Netherlands expand
Finding a suitable balance between work and life is a challenge for all workers, especially working parents. Some couples would like to have (more) children, but do not see how they could afford to stop working. Other parents are happy with the number of children in their family, but would like to work more. This is a challenge to governments because if parents cannot achieve their desired work/life balance, not only is their welfare lowered but so is development in the country.
People spend one-tenth to one-fifth of their time on unpaid work. The distribution of tasks within the family is still influenced by gender roles: men are more likely to spend more hours in paid work, while women spend longer on unpaid domestic work. Men in the Netherlands, spend 163 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring, more than the OECD average of 131 minutes but still less than Dutch women, who spend 273 minutes per day on average on domestic work.
Another important aspect of work-life balance is the amount of time a person spends at work. Evidence suggests that long work hours may impair personal health, jeopardize safety and increase stress. People in the Netherlands work 1 379 hours a year, the lowest rate in the OECD where the average is of 1 776 hours. The share of employees working more than 50 hours per week is not very large across OECD countries. In the Netherlands, less than 1% of employees work very long hours, the lowest rate in the OECD where the average is 9%. Overall, men spend more hours in paid work: in the Netherlands 1% of men work very long hours, compared with almost no women.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Dutch families are doing well as mothers take on dual roles
In the Netherlands, family and children policy outcomes are generally strong. Employment rates, parental education rates, and fertility rates are higher than OECD averages. In terms of children and youth, the Dutch have very low rates of youth unemployment, high reading literacy levels, below average levels of child income poverty, and high levels of life satisfaction in childhood (over 93% of 11-15 year old children report above average life satisfaction).
Many Dutch families share work responsibilities – the female employment rate is well above the OECD average (70% compared to 60% in the OECD on average), as is the mothers’ employment rate – but more often than not women work part-time. In the home, however, Dutch women spend almost 2 hours more per day working than men.
In the past two decades, the rise in female employment in the Netherlands has been rapid: in the early 80’s the rate was amongst the lowest in the OECD at around 35%, in 2009 it had doubled to over 70%. However, much of the increase in female employment has been on a part-time basis: over 55% of employed women work part-time. Part-time work is particularly common among employed mothers. This can add to the job satisfaction of these workers and free-up time for childcare, but often has negative consequences on career progression and underutilises women’s education and skills: young Dutch women are more educated than the OECD average, and more educated than Dutch men. In the Netherlands, a working mother with two grown up children has, on average, earned less than half of the total working-life earnings of otherwise similar female employees.