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In 2017, the Netherlands had 1.1 million self-employed persons without employees (so-called zzp’ers). They took up 12.3 percent of the active labour force (8.6 million aged 15 to 74 years). This is one of the highest shares of own-account workers in the EU. Reasons to opt for self-employment include the need for a new challenge and the freedom to determine one’s own hours and work schedule, according to a self-employment survey (ZEA) conducted in the Netherlands. Self-employment has surged in recent years. What is the situation in other EU member states?

Meetlat-5-zzp'ers_ENG DK EE HU DE L U SE HR A T FR L V BG SL L T FI M T BE IE C Y EU P T ES SK NL VK CZ PO I T RO GR 10.3% 12.3% Se l f- e m pl o y ed pe r s o n s , 2017

In 2017, there were 227 million people aged 15 to 74 years in paid work throughout the EU-28. Of this group, 23.4 million (10.3 percent) were active as own-account workers. Greece and Romania had the highest proportional shares at 22.8 and 17.1 percent respectively. One reason is that these countries have a large agricultural sector with relatively many self-employed. Denmark had the lowest share: less than 5 percent. At 12.3 percent, the Netherlands ranked seventh within the EU-28. Shares in neighbouring countries ranged from 5.4 percent in Germany to 12.5 percent in the United Kingdom.

More self-starters

The Netherlands has one of the fastest-growing shares of self-starters: from 8.6 percent in 2007 to 12.3 percent in 2017. Nearby, the UK also saw relatively rapid growth. The increase was less substantial in Belgium and France, while Germany even recorded a slight decline. Croatia’s share of self-employed fell by more than half in the span of a decade to 6.1 percent in 2017, while there was a considerable drop in Portugal as well. Both countries have faced substantial agricultural contraction in recent years.

227 million in paid work around the EU in 2017
23.4 million of them self-employed

More self-employment among men

Men are more often self-employed than women. Only Luxembourg has a higher share of women. In 2017, 14.0 percent of Dutch men in work were self-employed against 10.3 percent of working women. In Romania and Sweden, self-employment is almost twice as common among men as among women; even three times in Ireland. Across the EU-28, on average 12.5 percent of men and 7.7 percent of women engaged in an activity were own-account workers.


Eurostat – Self-employed without employees


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