Comprehensive picture of the Monitor of Well-being & Sustainable Development Goals 2020
This publication outlines the development of well-being and the Sustainable Development
Goals (SDGs) in the Netherlands in 2019. Therefore, the major impact on our economy
and society of COVID-19 and the associated measures are not discussed in this Monitor.
This does not mean, however, that the concept of well-being is not of great significance
when we consider the societal challenges that the Netherlands is currently facing.
More than ever before, many factors that determine quality of life are being brought
into decision-making procedures. As a result, the concept of well-being and achieving
the SDGs are clearly more relevant than ever.
This Monitor describes the development of well-being ‘here and now’, the potential
well-being of future generations (‘later’) and the effect of our actions on well-being
in other countries (‘elsewhere’). This is done using a structured set of indicators
that describe the many aspects of well-being. In addition to the economy and labour,
these indicators also concern matters such as health, education and the living environment.
They look at developments in the most recent year, trends over the last eight years
(the medium term: 2012–2019) and, where available, long-term developments from 1995.noot1 For each indicator, we also look at the position of the Netherlands within the European
Union (EU). We then examine the distribution of well-being between various groups
in the population.
This publication also looks at well-being from the perspective of the 17 SDGs. The SDGs
were drawn up by the United Nations (UN) in 2015 and signed by 193 countries (UN, 2015).
The SDGs are well aligned with the pursuit of greater well-being. Underlying principles
of the SDG agenda, such as the key principle of ‘leave no one behind’, the attention
to our carbon footprint and the five Ps (people, planet, peace, prosperity & partnership),
are all very relevant to our quality of life and ensuring that this quality of life
In 2019, the Netherlands was in a strong position economically. In the words of Klaas
Knot, president of De Nederlandsche Bank (Dutch Central Bank), the Dutch economy was
marked 9 out of 10 (Head Topics, 2020). We were therefore doing well as regards our
GDP and employment in 2019. Material well-being was high and had risen sharply in
the previous years. At the same time, it is notable that not all aspects of well-being
improved one-to-one with GDP over those years. The same can be said about a number
of material aspects. For example, the volume of GDP increased by more than 60 percent
from 1995, but real disposable income and the volume of household consumption rose
by over 40 percent. And on a number of non-material points, we have gone backwards.
The Netherlands is vulnerable in the area of natural capital and in many respects
it ranks lowest compared with other EU countries. The nitrogen surplus is among the
highest in Europe and the capacity and share of renewable energy are among the lowest.
Furthermore, with the exclusion of one neutral development, all biodiversity indicators
are showing a downward trend. On the positive side, the area of managed natural spaces
is increasing and renewable energy capacity is growing strongly.
There is a varied picture as regards health. Compared with other EU countries, the
Netherlands is in the middle group in this respect. The healthy life expectancy of
women is relatively low and the problem of an overweight population has been gradually
increasing in the Netherlands for decades. Society also seems to be becoming busier
and more rushed. Traffic congestion is increasing, satisfaction with the amount of
free time is declining and, in line with this, the percentage of people who do voluntary
work is also decreasing, together with the number of contacts with family, friends
and neighbours. Furthermore, work-related mental fatigue is increasing and the proportion
of mentally healthy individuals in the total population is declining. This is possibly
a drawback of high levels of employment, as employment has risen strongly in recent
years. To put this into context, however, it must be noted that a relatively large
amount of voluntary work is done in the Netherlands compared with other EU countries
and satisfaction with the amount of free time is still relatively high compared with
It is, however, not the case that the Netherlands has only made progress from a material
point of view. Our well-being has also increased in recent years and is now at a high
level in the European context. The same can be said of our trust in our fellow human
beings and in institutions. The Netherlands is a ‘high-trustsociety’. Safety is also continuing to increase. This is a good basis for well-being,
as is a robust economy, although a few comments need to be made about the economy
in 2019. Firstly, the fact that the Netherlands is a trading nation has both positive
and negative effects. Those trade relations have the effect of increasing well-being
in other countries as well. But they also involve the Netherlands extracting large
amounts of raw materials, at home as well as from other countries.
In addition, well-being is not distributed evenly among people. The low-skilled and
people with a non-western migration background in particular have a lower level of
well-being on average. The level of education is the main deciding factor here. A
person with a lower education level is very likely to have lower well-being in many
respects. A migration background is a less decisive factor in this regard. In addition,
not everybody benefits from increasing material well-being, as evidenced by a widening
poverty gap (how far the median income of poor people in the Dutch population is below
the poverty threshold), a larger share of households in long-term poverty and a growing
number of homeless people. Nevertheless, the Netherlands is still one of the leading
countries in Europe as regards the low risk of poverty or social exclusion, relative
poverty and the poverty gap.
Well-being ‘here and now’
Well-being in a broad sense in the Netherlands today is shown through eight themes:
well-being, material well-being, health, labour and leisure time, housing, society,
safety, and the environment.
How to use the ‘Trends in well-being’ illustrations
In the three ‘wheels’ depicting trends in well-being here and now, later and elsewhere,
the inner ring gives information on the medium-term trend (based on available data
for 2012–2019). The outer ring shows the most recent year-on-year change. Move to
or tap on an indicator to show what it measures. By clicking you get more information
on the developments for the Netherlands and on the Dutch ranking compared with other
EU countries. Where possible, time series are included from 1995.
For the trends and the year-on-year change, the colours denote:
For the EU ranking the colours denote:
The indicator is moving in the direction associated with an improvement of well-being.
The Netherlands is in the upper quartile of the EU ranking.
No significant increase or decrease in the indicator.
The Netherlands is in the middle of the EU ranking.
The indicator is moving in the direction associated with a deterioration in well-being.
The Netherlands is in the lower quartile of the EU ranking.
Well-being. The extent to which people are satisfied with their lives determines their well-being.
In the Netherlands, well-being is predominantly good. Both satisfaction with life
and personal well-being have shown an upward trend over the last eight years. Satisfaction
with life was as high in 2019 as it had ever been since measurements began in 1997.
For indicators for which an international comparison is possible in relation to this
theme, it is noticeable that the Netherlands scores high. However, there are differences
between population groups. For example, people aged 65 to 74 years feel above-average
satisfaction with life, while people aged 25 to 34 years feel below average satisfaction.
The satisfaction of highly educated people and those with a native Dutch background
is also above average, while people with a low education level and those with a non-western
migration background feel lower than average levels of satisfaction.
Material well-being. This measures the disposable income that people have and the goods and services that
they can purchase with that income. The development and the level of material well-being
are positive. There is an upward trend in both disposable income and individual consumption.
In 2019, individual consumption was at the highest level of the previous 25 years.
Material well-being in the Netherlands is also high when compared with other EU countries.
However, there are substantial differences between population groups. The differences
are related to age, education level and migration background.
Health. Health is a decisive factor for quality of life. An illness or disability restricts
a person’s opportunities for taking part in society. The Netherlands is not making
advances as regards many aspects of health. More than half of people aged 20 years
and over are now overweight, which has a negative effect on their health, and the
trend is upward. The share of people who are overweight has risen virtually without
exception since 1995 and in 2014 it exceeded 50 percent for the first time. In contrast,
the number of smokers as well as alcohol consumption declined further (SDG 3.5.2).
The percentage of men who are overweight is higher than that of women. In addition,
people with a low education level are more often overweight than the highly educated.
The proportion of those who are overweight also increases with age up to the age category
of 65 to 74 years. In terms of healthy life expectancy, Dutch men are midway in the
European rankings, but Dutch women still lag behind in Europe.
Labour and leisure time. For many people, well-being depends strongly on their having work that is appropriate
and paid. On the other hand, leisure time also has a role to play in well-being. A
good education is of great importance in determining opportunities on the labour market.
The picture with respect to labour and leisure time is mixed. Net labour participation,
for example, is on a rising trend, as is the share of highly educated people in the
population. In 2019, both were at the highest level in 25 years. However, time lost
through traffic congestion increased again between 2012 and 2019. Previously, congestion
had actually fallen between 2008 and 2012 due to the economic crisis. Satisfaction
with the amount of leisure time is showing a downward trend, although most developments
related to this theme were positive from 2018 to 2019. For example, long-term unemployment
was significantly lower in 2019 than in 2018 and there was a significant increase
in net labour participation, the share of highly educated people and job satisfaction.
The Netherlands ranks highly in most areas compared with other EU countries. However,
there are differences between population groups, for example in the level of education.
Whereas 82 percent of the highly educated are in paid employment, for people with
a medium level of education the share is 72 percent, while only 50 percent of those
with a low education level have paid work.
Housing. Decent accommodation is one of our basic needs. For this reason, people spend a substantial
part of their income on housing. In terms of housing, there is little movement in
the Netherlands either for better or worse and the country is in a middle position
in the EU rankings. The quality of homes improved significantly in 2019, though here
too, there are major differences between population groups. Young people report deficiencies
in their homes relatively often, while for elderly people, this problem is relatively
rare. People with a non-western migration background also experience deficiencies
in their housing more often than people with a native Dutch background.
Society. An essential part of well-being is a society in which everyone can participate and in
which people can trust one another and trust institutions such as the government and
the judicial system. There is a mixed picture in this area. One trend is that the
percentage of people who do organised voluntary work has declined. There is also a
downward trend in contact with the family, friends or neighbours. In contrast, trust
in institutions and in other people is on a rising trend. On all aspects of society,
the Netherlands has a high position in comparison with other European countries. With
regard to trust in other people, however, there are differences according to sex,
age, level of education and migration background. Whereas fewer than half of people
with a low education level trust others, for those with a medium education the share
is 60 percent and for the highly educated it is 80 percent.
Safety. Crime can have far-reaching consequences for victims. With regard to the phenomenon
of crime, both the actual risk of being a victim and the feeling of safety or a lack
of safety are of importance. On this theme, there is a positive picture. The percentage
of people who frequently feel unsafe in their own neighbourhood is decreasing. This
percentage was still rising between 2008 and 2013, but since 2014, the trend has been
downward. The crime victim rate is also falling. Both the number of people feeling
unsafe and the number of actual crime victims were significantly lower in 2019 than
in 2018. The number of victims in the Netherlands is average in the European context.
A higher than average share of highly educated people report having been victims of
traditional or other crimes, but a lower than average share of this group often feel
unsafe in their own neighbourhood. The reverse is true for those with a low level
The environment. Clean air, clean water, a healthy natural environment and healthy soil are important
basic needs. There is a mixed picture in relation to this theme. Although there are
a number of positive trends, 2019 saw both favourable and unfavourable changes. The area
of managed natural spaces within the Netherlands Nature Network shows a rising trend.
This is the network of existing nature areas and those still to be created, including
national parks as well as land farmed under agricultural nature management schemes
and land purchased for nature development. The quality of swimming water in inland
waters is also rising and exposure to particulate matter in cities is falling. On the
negative side, the wealth of species and the populations of animals typical of fresh
water and marsh are declining. Fresh water and marsh fauna increased between 1995
and 2008, then remained stable for a few years, before deteriorating from 2014. In addition,
the numbers of birds in cities and on agricultural land declined, and the number of
endangered species on the Red List rose (SDG 15.5.1). However, in 2019, the percentage
of people experiencing environmental problems was significantly lower than in 2018.
As far as the environment is concerned, the Netherlands is mostly in a bad to average
position compared with other EU countries. However, it is not possible to make a comparison
for all indicators.
Well-being ‘later’ refers to the resources that future generations need in order to
achieve the same level of well-being as their parents. In this context, these resources
are referred to as ‘capital’. The basic principle is that the per capita amount of
capital must remain at least equal if future generations want to be able to enjoy
the same level of well-being.
Economic capital. Dutch physical capital stock is tending to decline, but knowledge capital stock is
increasing. In terms of knowledge capital, the Netherlands tops the EU rankings. Household
debt, which can be seen as negative economic capital in the context of well-being,
is relatively high, however.
Natural capital. With respect to natural capital, the Netherlands is weak from a European point of
view. In terms of trends, there are downward as well as upward developments. Fossil
energy reserves are decreasing and fresh water and marsh faunas are on the decline.
In addition, cumulative CO2 emissions are rising. These developments contribute to reducing well-being. In contrast,
the operational capacity for renewable energy is growing, as is the size of the Netherlands
Nature Network. The amount of urban particulate matter and surface and groundwater
abstraction show a downward trend and these factors have a positive effect on well-being.
The international comparison puts the Netherlands mostly near the bottom or in the
middle of the rankings. For example, the Netherlands has a large nitrogen surplus
per hectare of agricultural land and a relatively low operational capacity for renewable
energy. However, that capacity does show a very strong increase over the long term.
Human capital. There are important upward trends in human capital in the Netherlands. For example,
the number of working hours per capita is on a rising trend and it was higher in 2019
than it had been in the previous 25 years. The share of the total population who are
highly educated is rising and in 2019, it was significantly higher than in the year
before. During the previous 25 years, this share had risen virtually continuously.
Compared with other European countries, the Netherlands ranks in the middle in many
areas. However, the healthy life expectancy of women in the Netherlands is low in
comparison with other EU countries.
Social capital. In the Netherlands, social capital is reasonably substantial and growing. Trust in institutions
as well as trust in other people is at a high level compared with other countries
in the EU. Moreover, both forms of trust are following an upward trend. However, compared
with other EU countries, a significant proportion of the population consider that
they belong to a group that suffers discrimination. There is no clear trend for this
proportion, either rising or falling.
Dutch society also has an influence on the rest of the world, which is reflected in
well-being ‘elsewhere’. Central to this are the flows of income and resources between
the Netherlands and other countries. Within well-being ‘elsewhere’, we distinguish
the themes of ‘trade and aid’, and ‘the environment and resources’.
Trade and aid. For trade and aid, the trends are predominantly neutral or positive. The value of imports
of goods from Asia and Oceania increased and this was also the trend for remittances.
In 2019, both the import flows in question and remittances were at their highest points
in 25 years. The trend in the imports of goods from Africa is downward, but these
imports were significantly higher in 2019 than in 2018. For the indicators for which
an international comparison is possible, the Netherlands is high in the European rankings.
The Port of Rotterdam plays a major role in this.
The environment and resources. The picture is less positive for the environment and resources. For example, there
is a rising trend in the amounts of biomass and metals imported, and also in imports
of metals from the poorest countries. From the point of view of conserving raw materials
for future generations elsewhere, these trends are seen as negative for well-being.
Total imports of metals were the highest for 25 years and imports of biomass were
higher than ever before. Imports of metals from the poorest countries rose significantly
in 2019. The greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint, where the trend is neutral, also rose
strongly from 2018 to 2019. However, fossil fuel imports from the poorest countries
did show a falling trend. This is the only indicator associated with this theme that
is developing in the direction of an increase in well-being. Internationally, the
Netherlands lags behind on this theme.
Distribution of well-being
Well-being here and now is not distributed equally. Some population groups have above-average
scores for many indicators, which points to a higher level of well-being. This is
especially true for people without a migration background and for those with a high
level of education. At the other end of the scale, there are groups that often score
below average, especially those with a western or non-western migration background
and people with a low education level. Well-being is fairly equally distributed by
age. Men and women have equal numbers of favourable and unfavourable outcomes.