Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dutch Happiness and Part-Time Working: Is It Linked?

Most Dutch Women choose to work

Photo: Kurhan
According to the CBS, nearly 75% of Dutch women in the work place work part-time. It's the highest part-time rate in the EU, despite the fact that the Netherlands has the second highest rate of women workers in the EU: 71.5% of Dutch women work.

It's not a new topic. But it remains a fascinating one. The Dutch government began trying to encourage women to take on full time employment with tax incentives in the 1990s. They didn't work. In fact, the tax breaks did exactly the opposite and encouraged women to work even fewer hours.

As a comparison: The New York Times states that 23% of women in the United States work part time. That is a staggering difference. What accounts for this part time working trend?

One theory back in 2009 was that men were holding women back - shorter hours and less pay for women being the result. The UN commissioned a study, only to find that only 4% of women part-time workers actually wanted to work full-time or longer hours. Dutch women are actually happy to work part-time. They don't want additional responsibility in the workplace. They don't want to work longer hours.

So is it that Dutch women are lazy? Would they rather be at home watching Oprah than sitting in the work place? Is a daily visit to the gym more important than an increased income?

No, it's about personal freedom. About being able to make choices about how life is lived. Dutch mothers are not prepared to give up their family time and leave full-time child-rearing to expensive creches or the grandparents. Those without children choose to 'enjoy life' instead of working full-time. The Dutch want a good work-life balance. The Dutch are family oriented and value their leisure time (as anyone living here will validate - sunny evenings and weekends mean that the locals are out in force with their bikes enjoying themselves - not in an office to please the boss).

Women, and their partners, are contented with this Dutch culture of part-time working. And the result? Happy women! In fact, the Dutch generally score high in happiness rankings (in the top ten). Looks like somebody is doing something right somewhere in the Netherlands. Don't you think?


Viajera said...

Not laziness on their part at all. I'm sorry for us ladies who live in or will return to North American. We just don't have this option. Many people are struggling even on double incomes and the support payments, at least in Canada, are not enough to make it feasible for women to work part-time. I envy Dutch women.

alex said...

I am new in the Netherlands, but what I just found is that the public schools here, have a break between 12 and 13:00. Then the child, enters again school at 13:00, and finishes at 15.00. And 2 days of the week, they finish their class at 12.00 and must be picked up. So, you need the help of a grandparent, or a paid babysitter to follow this schedule, while working fulltime. Is that right?

I do not know if grandparents in northern Europe and Netherlands are used to offer, or be asked, that kind of help (as is the custom in Greece), and I do not know what are the costs of trustworthy babysitters here, but the extent of "free choice", to part-time working is debatable.

Amanda van Mulligen said...

Viajera - completely agree there is nothing to do with laziness in the trend - Dutch women have it good and of course if you can do it then why not? It has to be better for family life for a start!

Alex - The junior schools have a break for lunch but timings differ. Some of the younger kids are then home Weds and Fri afternoon, but other schools work it so that the younger ones are actually home every other Wednesday and have a half day the other week. Secondary schools are a different story. You can of course pay for BSO (Buiten School Opvang) which means that your child stays in school at lunch time and after school which is of course meant for families with both parents working. I think the cost of this is quite reasonable but have never looked in to it.

I see a lot of grandparents picking kids up from junior school so it is quite normal here - that's the emphasis placed on family coming in to its own.