How resilient is our well-being?

Photo description: A man inspecting constructional damage to a house in Groningen

Trends in well-being

In the public debate on well-being, GDP is often a dominant economic indicator. However, well-being is about more than just the economy. People also greatly value things such as good health, high-quality education, social contacts, cultural identity, trustworthy politics and good governance. The measurement of well-being shows how the Netherlands’ is faring with regard to these aspects. The Netherlands has also committed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are due to be achieved by 2030. These goals are a specific, policy-oriented interpretation of the concept of well-being.

Politicians, policy-makers, companies and citizens are also increasingly questioning whether the current level of well-being is sustainable over the long term. Moreover, the choices we make in the Netherlands may have consequences for the well-being of people in other countries. Hence there is strong demand in society for sound information on well-being in a broader perspective. In this Monitor, CBS not only presents a collection of indicators that define the relevant aspects of well-being in a systematic manner, but also presents a picture of the Netherlands’ progress on the SDGs.

The well-being trends presented in this chapter are based on a relatively limited number of indicators. This is the only means by which the reader can gain a concise and manageable overview of the state of the country. However, each of these indicators includes numerous nuances that would be lost if we focused only on the well-being trends.

The aspects by which well-being is measured are closely aligned with the various elements of the 17 SDGs. The SDG agenda aims to strike a balance between human, environmental and economic development for a future-proof society. The SDGs are measured at the level of concrete targets. The SDG indicators thus provide a great deal of information that increases the understanding of the underlying trends in well-being. Therefore, this edition integrates the indicators for the SDGs in Chapter 4 into the description of well-being. This allows a more contextual presentation of indicators and enables the SDG agenda – an important policy framework for the Netherlands – to be explicitly included in the analysis of well-being.

2.0.1How the SDGs connect to three main well-being themes
Figure showing how the SDGs are linked to the overarching themes of biosphere, society and economy.>BiosphereBiosphereSocietySocietyEconomyEconomy
Figure showing how the SDGs are linked to the overarching themes of biosphere, society and economy.BiosphereBiosphereSocietySocietyEconomyEconomy

As in previous editions, every description of the well-being trends includes the core indicators. Now, however, these are described in the context of the SDGs set out in the figure above. Figure 2.0.1 shows that mankind’s long-term prosperity relies on a healthy biosphere and human well-being. The economy is therefore not the only aspect of well-being that matters, even though it appears at the top of this figure. The positioning of the economy at the top is much more a reflection of the fact that it must be rooted in society and the biosphere in a healthy way. This insight is also reflected in the transition literature, in which Kemp et al. (2016) speak of the need to ‘re-embed’ the economy in both society and nature. Only then can the economy provide sustainable material well-being and employment, affording people a good quality of life in the broad sense. This is explicitly about building well-being from which all groups in society can benefit. Lastly, it is important that ecological boundaries are respected. There is only one earth, which we, as current and future generations, must treat with care; a carefully designed socio-economic system must therefore take due account of the planet’s limitations. The rooting of economic growth in society and ecology is at the heart of the SDG agenda. In addition to SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production), this theme also arises in many other SDGs.

The chapter closes with a section on resilience. It is the first time that the Monitor has addressed this issue. The coronavirus crisis has made us aware of the fragility of our way of life. A shock of this magnitude affects many dimensions of well-being. It is not the first crisis of the 21st century (there was the credit crisis, for example) and it will not be the last. The question is therefore to what extent the Netherlands is capable of absorbing the next major shock. A new resilience dashboard is intended to provide greater understanding on this point. The dashboard presented in this edition of the Monitor is an initial experimental development of this theme.

2.1Selection of themes and indicators

The purpose of the Monitor, and this chapter in particular, is to indicate how the Netherlands is faring in terms of well-being ‘here and now’, ‘later’ and ‘elsewhere’. To this end, a set of indicators has been used for which data were available or could be produced. The ideal indicators are not available for all aspects of well-being. The indicators presented here were selected on the basis of the conceptual framework of the CES measuring system of UNECE (UNECE, 2014). The selection of indicators and the statistical methods used to compile the dashboards are described in the explanatory notes accompanying this Monitor (CBS, 2021a). Where figures have been produced specially for the Monitor, this is indicated by a note (A) accompanying the relevant dashboards. These figures give an initial indication. For this edition of the Monitor, in Chapter 2 CBS has estimated annual figures for 2020 for the following indicators to facilitate the political debate. These are accelerated estimates made specially for this publication. Initial provisional results of the Natural Capital Accounts have now also been included.

  • The indicators relating to the healthy life expectancy of men and women in the ‘here and now’ dashboard.
  • The indicators relating to phosphorus and nitrogen surpluses, cumulative COemissions and the healthy life expectancy of men and women in the ‘later’ dashboard.
  • Green and blue space (excluding regular agriculture) relates to the initial provisional results of the Natural Capital Accounts;
  • A number of import indicators (imports from the LDCs, imports of minerals, metals, non-metallic minerals and biomass) and the raw materials and GHG footprint in the ‘elsewhere’ dashboard.
  • The GHG footprint and the green and blue space (excluding regular agriculture) in the ‘resilience’ dashboard.

Colour codes

The Monitor uses colours to enable the results of the various indicators to be compared. For each indicator two aspects are illustrated: the medium-term trend (and trend direction) in the Netherlands in the 2013–2020 period and the Netherlands’ position in the EU27 in the most recent year with sufficient observations.

For trends, the colours mean the following: For positions, the colours mean the following:
Green Green
The trend is moving in the direction associated with an increase in well-being. The Netherlands is in the top quartile of the EU ranking.
Grey Grey
No significant rise or fall in the trend. (This colour has been omitted in the dashboards). The Netherlands is in the middle of the EU ranking.
Red Red
The trend is moving in the direction associated with a decrease in well-being. The Netherlands is in the bottom quartile of the EU ranking.

The colours are allocated only on the basis of the first-order effect. For example, in the first order, an increase in individual consumption is good for the consumer. However, in the second order, higher consumption can, for example, cause environmental pollution, obesity, water consumption and COemissions in other countries.

The colour code signals to the reader that he or she should take a close look at the phenomenon highlighted by the indicator, as there is clearly an issue. If an indicator shows a trend in the Netherlands, for example, that is moving in the direction associated with a decline in well-being, and the Netherlands’ position in Europe is in the lowest quartile, this is illustrated in the Monitor as a ‘red’ trend and a ‘red’ position. In the case of a completely green indicator, something is clearly going well.

The colour codes serve only as signals and they are expressly not a normative interpretation. The Monitor indicates where the Netherlands stands in terms of various aspects of well-being, showing the trade-offs that we as a society are confronted with. It is the task of political decision-makers and policy-makers to consider the issues and draw conclusions on policy. Specially for this Monitor, a provisional estimate has been made for a number of indicators for 2020. This initial indication can be adjusted at a later date.

Footnotes in the dashboards mean the following:

  1. For the Monitor of Well-being, CBS has estimated an annual figure for the most recent year in order to facilitate the political debate. This is a provisional first estimate.
  2. For this indicator, the number of data points in the 2013–2020 period is insufficient to calculate a trend.
  3. Data quality insufficient to determine a trend.
  4. Initial provisional results from the Natural Capital Accounts (NCA).
  5. In contrast to the BWT (well-being trends) ‘elsewhere’ wheel in Chapter 2, in Chapter 4 this indicator is interpreted for SDG 17 as being favourable or unfavourable in terms of well-being. This indicator is defined in the SDG agenda. Each SDG indicator has a desired direction. From this point of view, more spending is seen as increasing well-being.

2.2Well-being ‘here and now’

It is not only the current situation that is of importance for well-being, but also the medium-term development, i.e. the trend, and the short-term development, i.e. the most recent year-on-year change. This section looks in more detail at the following:

  • the trend in the 2013–2020 period;
  • the most recent annual changes;
  • the Netherlands’ position in the EU ranking in the most recent year for which international data are available.

The ‘here and now’ dashboard distinguishes eight main themes. We indicate below the importance of those various themes in terms of well-being. The main SDGs for each theme are also stated.

  • Subjective well-being. Personal well-being is central to reflections on well-being in a broad sense. Well-being is defined here as the extent to which people are satisfied with their lives.
  • Material well-being (SDGs 1, 8, 9, 10, 12). Material well-being comprises people’s disposable income together with the goods and services they can buy with it to add fulfilment and colour to their lives.
  • Health (SDG 3). Health is a decisive factor for quality of life. A chronic illness restricts a person’s ability to participate in society. Quality of life is also determined to a great extent by nutrition and a healthy diet. One of the biggest problems in this area is currently the overweight population.
  • Labour and leisure time (SDGs 4, 8, 9). For many people, well-being depends greatly on having appropriate paid employment. On the other hand, leisure time has a major influence on people’s perceived quality of life. A balance therefore needs to be struck between labour and leisure time. In this context, a good education is essential for a person to have good prospects in the job market.
  • Housing (SDG 11). Decent accommodation is a basic need. The Dutch spend a substantial part of their income on housing.
  • Society (SDGs 1, 5, 10). A society in which everyone can participate and in which people can trust one another and trust institutions such as the government and the legal system is also part of well-being. The number of social contacts and hence the degree to which people participate in social life is another important aspect of well-being.
  • Safety (SDGs 11, 16). Crime has a direct impact on victims’ quality of life. Both the actual risk of being a victim and the feeling of safety or a lack of safety have an effect.
  • Environment (SDGs 2, 6, 7, 13, 14, 15). Clean air, clean water, a healthy natural environment and soil free of poisonous residues are important basic needs. High concentrations of particulate matter in the air can lead to serious health problems, such as asthma and COPD. In a densely populated country such as the Netherlands, it is also important for certain areas to be primarily left natural, so that flora and fauna can survive and thrive.
2.2.1   Broad well-being 'here and now'

Subjective well-being

84.8%
2nd
66.2%
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
48.0%
3rd

Material well-being

€ 27,500
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
6th
€ 24,789
6th

Health

66.5
15th
65.9
21st
51.1%
The long-term trend indicates a decline in broad well-being
10th

Labour and leisure time

0.9%
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
7th
68.4%
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
1st
34.2%
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
10th
76.4%
6th
4.09
The long-term trend indicates a decline in broad well-being
79.2%
7th

Housing

85.1%
18th
87.5%
8th

Society

71.2%
The long-term trend indicates a decline in broad well-being
2nd
1.56
4th
69.5%
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
3rd
63.0%
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
3rd
43.3%
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
43.8%
The long-term trend indicates a decline in broad well-being
1st

Safety

1.4%
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
13.7%
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
14th

Environment

20.7%
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
73.5%
15th
139
The long-term trend indicates a decline in broad well-being
83
The long-term trend indicates a decline in broad well-being
71.4%
10.4
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
8th
14.2%
18th

As in previous editions of the Monitor, well-being ‘here and now’ shows mainly stable or even green trends over the past eight years. For the themes of subjective well-being, material well-being, housing and safety, the indicators show a stable or rising level of well-being. The picture with regard to the themes of health, labour and leisure time, society and the environment is more mixed, with one or two indicators for each theme being red.

For each of the eight themes, we now look in more detail at how well-being ‘here and now’ has developed. For each theme, we first discuss the indicators that appear in green or red in the dashboard. These developments are then viewed in the broader context of indicators in the SDG agenda, on which Chapter 4 is based.

We turn first to subjective well-being, or the way in which people themselves perceive their quality of life.

Subjective well-being

  • Satisfaction with life: this satisfaction is measured as the percentage of the population of the Netherlands aged 18 and over that is satisfied with life (score of 7–10 in answer to the question ‘Please indicate on a scale of 1–10 how satisfied you are with the life you are living now. 1 is completely dissatisfied and 10 is completely satisfied.’). In the trend period of the previous Monitor (2012–2019) there was still a significant rising trend in satisfaction with life (green). In the current measurement, for 2013–2020, this trend has changed and is now stable (grey). Satisfaction with life also decreased by 2.5 percentage points in 2020 to 84.8 percent.
  • Personal Well-being Index: this index is measured using 12 indicators that describe eight different dimensions of well-being. A score is determined for each dimension and the scores are subsequently combined into a single figure. This measure indicates the percentage of the population that rates the relevant aspect of well-being with a score of 7 or higher (on a scale of 1–10). The eight scores are equally weighted. In 2013, the first year of measurement, 55.6 percent of the population gave a score of 7 or higher for their personal well-being. This share rose to 66.2 percent in 2020 and the medium-term trend is green. The personal well-being index increased by 1.5 percentage points in 2020 compared to 2019.

Apart from this important information on how people perceive their quality of life, it is also important to know how the various aspects of well-being have developed in a more objective sense. The well-being ‘here and now’ dashboard looks at a number of themes, which are considered in the order shown in Figure 2.0.1. We turn first to the economic indicators for the theme of material well-being.

Key aspects of well-being ‘here and now’ are related to the economy. Above all, a well-functioning economy is required in order to meet basic material needs (food, clothing, medical care, education, etc.). However, it is important that the economy is rooted in society and the biosphere in a healthy way, as Figure 2.0.1 also shows.

Material well-being

  • Median disposable income: this is the income per household (adjusted for price developments, expressed in constant 2019 prices). The calculation is adjusted for the differences in household size and composition. The median is the middle number in a sorted ascending list of numbers. This income rose from 25,016 euros in 2013 to 27,500 euros in 2019. The trend is green.
  • Individual consumption: this indicator concerns actual individual consumption, which comprises the goods and services acquired by households; these include goods and services funded by the government and non-profit institutions serving households (NPISHs) and subsequently provided to the households as social transfers in kind. These primarily include government expenditure in the areas of health, education and social protection. Collective government spending on defence or general administration, for example, is not included. This is the value of consumption per capita (adjusted for price changes, expressed in 2015 prices). This indicator shows a trend reversal. Whereas the trend period of the previous Monitor (2012–2019) still showed a green trend, for the 2013–2020 period it is now grey.

First, from a well-being perspective, it is important to examine the extent to which households are able to take advantage of economic growth. The Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission therefore argued as early as 2009 that the measure of material well-being should no longer be gross domestic product (GDP), but households’ income or consumption levels (Stiglitz et al. 2009).

Last year’s well-being report found that growth in household income and consumption had lagged far behind GDP growth over the past twenty-five years. The picture is the same this year. The volume of GDP per capita was almost 9.7 percent higher in 2019 than at the beginning of the trend period in 2013, while the volume of actual individual consumption was 5.4 percent higher. An important development can be seen in 2020, however. While GDP per capita fell by 4.3 percent, the economic contraction caused by the coronavirus crisis probably hit households less hard. Unfortunately, no figures for median disposable income are yet available for 2020. In any case, the increase in collective labour agreement pay last year was well above inflation. The initial results of the national accounts point to growth in households’ real disposable income of 2.4 percent. This is a larger increase than in 2019, despite the coronavirus crisis. Despite this continued income growth, the volume of individual consumption per capita declined by 5.7 percent in 2020. Apart from reduced consumption opportunities due to lockdown measures, consumers are likely to have moderated their spending patterns in these uncertain times. The figures on consumer confidence show a sharp fall over the past year.

The core indicators of material well-being are also closely related to indicators such as those included in SDGs 8, 9, 10 and 12. SDG 8 (dashboard 2) concerns decent work for everyone, especially vulnerable groups, with good working conditions. Work is important; it enables people to earn money, participate in society and gain greater self-esteem. The question of whether they can find and keep a job and whether that job will pay them enough to get by is important for many people. In addition, they want to be able to work in decent conditions, perform relevant and interesting tasks and have a good work-life balance. Leisure time also makes life worthwhile, enabling people to relax, engage with others and develop themselves further.

SDG 9 (dashboard 2) focuses on making businesses stronger and more sustainable and on increasing access to high-value markets and finance for small businesses. For the Dutch context, indicators have been added that are relevant (including in policy terms) to corporate social responsibility (CSR) and activity in developed countries such as the Netherlands. CSR also touches upon other SDGs: access to credit for small businesses, employee conditions, more sustainable production processes and inclusive and sustainable value chains within and across national borders. In the Netherlands, the main topics in this regard are relations between employers and employees, the role of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large companies and sustainable production processes and products.

From a well-being perspective, it is important that economic development is designed to be sustainable. This means that planetary boundaries of the biosphere are respected, that economic development enhances quality of life and that all groups in society benefit from this increase in well-being. The SDG agenda devotes particular attention to the ecological and social parameters within which the economy must develop. It aims specifically to exploit potential synergies between economic, social and ecological developments. It also states explicitly how the negative impacts of economic growth should be contained. By examining trends in various SDG indicators, it is possible to assess the extent to which Dutch society is on track to meet the 2030 goals.

In the other themes of the ‘here and now’ dashboard, the social and ecological aspects of well-being are of course discussed in more detail. However, SDGs 8, 9 and 12, which are more focused on the economy, also contain targets aimed at combining economic growth with social and environmental progress. A number of indicators in SDGs 9 and 12 show that the Netherlands is increasingly efficient in its handling of raw materials. For example, the energy and greenhouse gas intensity of the economy is decreasing while resource productivity is increasing. Two comments must be made in this regard. First, there is only a relative decoupling of economic growth and environmental pressure here. Environmental pressure will still increase in times of strong economic growth, despite increased resource efficiency. Another important factor is the extent to which the Netherlands’ economic activity leads to environmental pressure in other countries (SDG 8 dashboard 1, for example, shows that the Netherlands has a substantial raw material footprint). These themes are examined in greater depth in the well-being ‘later’ and ‘elsewhere’ dashboards.

Besides the ecological impact, attention should also be paid to the social consequences of economic growth. SDG 10 (dashboard 1), for example, shows that income inequality and relative poverty in the Netherlands have remained stable over the past trend period (2013–2020). The median household income is significantly above the national average in the case of highly educated people and people aged 35–64 (green). People under the age of 25 and low-skilled people score clearly below average. Median household wealth (SDG 1) shows a rising trend. This year’s Monitor also provides information for the first time on the distribution of median household wealth. For people aged over 45, this indicator is green. Wealth is also significantly above average for the over-75s, whose median income shows a red score. The groups aged to 24 and from 25 to 44, on the other hand, score below average. As in the case of the income indicator, highly educated people score above average for wealth (green). Medium- and low-skilled people show a red score. Lastly, a notable category is that of migrants (both with western and with non-western backgrounds). They do not stand out specifically in terms of median incomes, but they do score significantly below average in terms of wealth (red). For people with a native Dutch background, this indicator is green.

Health

No green trends were recorded in the health theme under well-being ‘here and now’.

  • The trend in healthy life expectancy among both men and women is stable. In this Monitor, we chose the variant of life expectancy (at birth) in health that is perceived as good or very good. In 2020, mortality due to the coronavirus pandemic was 10 percent higher than could be expected based on mortality in previous years and demographic trends. This led to a decrease in life expectancy. However, people’s appreciation of their own health was particularly high. This combination resulted in a substantially higher healthy life expectancy in 2020 for both men and women than in 2019.
  • Overweight population (SDG 2.2.2): the overweight population is measured as the percentage of the population aged 20 and over with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 kg/m2 or higher. This proportion increased from 48.2 percent in 2013 to 51.1 percent in 2020. The trend is rising, and hence red, but in 2020 the percentage of overweight adults barely increased any further.

SDG 3 aims to achieve good health for people of all ages. This includes preventing premature deaths caused by poor maternal and child care, as well as addressing physical illness and psychological problems. Dutch policy is aimed at further reducing neonatal and infant mortality. The policy also focuses on general prevention of communicable diseases. In addition, there is a particular focus on non-communicable diseases, including through prevention and improved access to mental health care. The measures in the National Prevention Agreement on smoking, obesity and problem drinking contribute to this. In the prevention and treatment of excessive use of addictive substances, the Netherlands focuses on preventing use and combating the crime that is often associated with it (CBS, 2021b).

The indicators for SDG 3 (Good health and well-being) provide a more detailed picture of the health theme than the health theme in Chapter 2 ‘here and now’. The trend in public expenditure on health care (as a percentage of GDP) has declined in recent years, but no figures are yet available for 2020. For this indicator the Netherlands is currently among the regions in the middle of the EU ranking. The number of care hours worked has been stable in recent years and is among the highest in the EU.

In addition to the stable trend in healthy life expectancy for men and women in recent years, there are less favourable developments in the health field: a rising trend in the percentage of overweight people, increasing waiting times for specialist care and a declining trend in vaccination coverage for measles. Furthermore, a growing proportion of the population feels mentally unhealthy. On the other hand, there are a number of positive trends. The percentage of the population over the age of 12 who smoke has trended lower. In addition, the percentage of people whose daily functions are seriously limited by chronic disability has declined. The trend has changed from stable to green and the Netherlands occupies a high position in the EU ranking for this indicator. Perceived health in the Netherlands showed a declining trend in previous measurements, but is now stable.

Labour and leisure time

  • Long-term unemployment. The percentage of the labour force unemployed for more than one year stood at 2.5 percent in 2013, but by 2020 it had fallen to 0.9 percent. The trend has changed from neutral to green.
  • Net labour participation: this indicator measures the share of the employed labour force in the total 15–74 age category (both included and not included in the labour force). This figure was 65.4 percent in 2013, rising to 68.4 percent in 2020.
  • Highly educated population: the fact that the contribution of education to well-being is measured here on the basis of the percentage of highly educated people in the population does not mean that other types of education, such as vocational training and craftsmanship, are not important for well-being. It is clear, however, that highly educated people generally achieve a higher level of well-being in numerous areas of society (see Chapter 3). The highly educated population is measured as the percentage of the population aged 15–74 that has successfully completed higher vocational or university studies. This rose from 28.3 percent in 2013 to 34.2 percent in 2020.
  • Satisfaction with leisure time: this satisfaction is measured as the percentage of the population aged 18 and over who are satisfied or very satisfied with the amount of leisure time they have. The trend in this indicator has reversed. The previous Monitor showed a downward trend, with people decreasingly satisfied with the amount of leisure time, whereas now the trend is stable. A significant increase in satisfaction with leisure time is evident in 2020.
  • Time lost due to traffic congestion and delays: this measure of congestion on the main road network, from the KiM Netherlands Institute for Transport Policy Analysis, is expressed as the number of vehicle hours lost per capita. This figure rose from 2.6 in 2013 to 4.1 in 2019. The trend is rising and red. No 2020 figures are yet available for this indicator, but the volume of traffic on the main road network was considerably reduced by the coronavirus measures, resulting in less congestion and delays.
  • Job satisfaction (employees): this indicator is measured as the percentage of employees aged 15–74 who are satisfied or very satisfied with their job. The level of satisfaction rose by 1.3 percentage points in 2020, to 79.2 percent.

The theme of labour and leisure time also plays a prominent role in the SDG agenda. SDG 8 (dashboard 2) shows that the labour theme in the Netherlands is trending positively across a broad front. While unemployment, long-term unemployment and unused labour potential show a downward trend, a significant increase in the vacancy rate (vacancies per thousand jobs) and in net labour participation can be seen over the 2013–2020 period. In the previous Monitor, there were indications of a trade-off between increased labour participation and decreased satisfaction with leisure time. A clear change occurred in 2020: while net labour participation was slightly lower in 2020 than in 2019, at 68.4 percent compared to 68.8 percent, satisfaction with leisure time shows a significant increase. This improved from 74.2 percent in 2019 to 76.4 percent in 2020; the trend turned from red to stable.

Job retention worries among employees have declined, although the percentage who were worried in 2020 (17.7) was 1.2 percentage points higher than in 2019. The only unfavourable trend in this SDG occurs in employees’ mental fatigue caused by work, which rose from 14.4 percent in the first year of measurement, 2014, to 15.7 percent in 2020. This level of fatigue was significantly lower in 2020 than in 2019 (17.0 percent). With the exception of average working hours per week (in which the Netherlands ranked 25th in the EU in 2019), the Netherlands occupies a leading position in Europe for most of the indicators.

SDG 9 (dashboard 1) also touches on the theme of labour and leisure time in the ‘here and now’ dashboard. This SDG focuses on accessible infrastructure, and mobility for all. In addition to the physical infrastructure (which is already highly developed in the Netherlands), this also includes the mobility of people and freight. Mobility and infrastructure enable people to work, keep in touch with each other and pursue activities in their leisure time. Personal mobility includes transport to and from work. Mobility also has negative effects on society and the environment, however, including time lost in traffic congestion, unsafe traffic situations and the burden on the environment.

Traffic congestion and delays are a major source of irritation in the Netherlands. The figures in SDG 9 (dashboard 1) show that time lost due to congestion on the main road network in vehicle hours lost per capita rose from 2.6 in 2013 to 4.1 in 2019. In 2020, the amount of time lost was probably much lower due to widespread homeworking to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

SDG 4 aims to achieve a good education for everyone. Adequate and accessible education is important for people in all age categories and in all stages of life, from pre-school and primary education through to vocational and higher education, followed by ‘lifelong learning’. The quality of education is a determinant of the competencies of pupils and students and the population as a whole. Education additionally ensures that current and future employees will have the skills they need to work in a knowledge-intensive environment. This SDG is therefore also linked to the theme of labour and leisure time.

SDG 4 (Quality education) provides some important insights with regard to the level of education. The percentage of early school leavers is declining, and a steadily increasing part of the population aged 25–64 reports having undertaken some form of education or training in the four weeks prior to the study (SDG indicator 4.3.1: lifelong learning). The trend in the percentage of children in pre-school education has changed from decreasing to stable. The Netherlands is in a leading position for this indicator in Europe. The Dutch population also has a high level of education and skills by European standards, although these figures are not very recent.

Housing

The trends in both the quality of housing and satisfaction with the home are stable. Once again, no significant changes are observed in the ‘here and now’ dashboard in 2020. More information is provided by SDG 11, which focuses on sustainable living and life in cities and communities. Dashboard 1 of SDG 11 focuses on adequate housing. Life takes place to a large extent in and around our home. Well-being therefore benefits from the availability of good-quality, safe, appropriate and affordable housing. Where people live is determined not only by their work location and social ties but also to a large extent by the availability of suitable and affordable housing. Housing market mobility is important for first-time buyers and those wishing to move up the housing ladder. Well-being is also clearly affected by how much people can enjoy their home and how much it costs them to live there.

Dashboard 1 of SDG 11 shows a rising trend in the number of homes available. An increasing number of people nevertheless live in inadequately sized homes, although this is not a major problem by European standards. The Netherlands ranked fourth in the EU27 for this indicator in 2019. The picture with regard to housing costs is less positive. Actual rentals (according to the HICP harmonised index of consumer prices), expenditure on the purchase and ownership of owner-occupied homes, the median selling price/asking price ratio and households’ average mortgage debt all show a rising trend. However, the total housing costs for rented and owner-occupied homes (i.e. expenditure as a percentage of disposable income) have trended lower in recent years; the trend has changed from grey to green. These housing costs are nevertheless high by European standards (the Netherlands ranked 23rd in the EU27 in 2019). The trend in perceived housing costs is also positive, as they are seen as decreasingly problematic over the 2013–2020 period. The Netherlands is among the leaders in Europe in this regard (third in the EU27 in 2019).

The picture with regard to satisfaction with the living environment is not clear-cut. Compared to other countries, Dutch people experience a lot of nuisance in the neighbourhood (25th place in the EU27 in 2019), whereas the Netherlands occupies the first place in the EU ranking in terms of satisfaction with the living environment. (This figure is relatively old, dating from 2013.)

Society

The theme of society in the ‘here and now’ dashboard is covered by six indicators:

  • Trust in institutions (SDG 16.6.2): this trust is measured as the percentage of the population aged 15 and over who have sufficient trust in institutions (score of 6 or higher on a scale of 1–10). Three institutions are included here: the House of Representatives, the police and the legal system. The percentage of the population trusting these institutions rose from 56 percent in 2013 to 69.5 in 2020. It is striking that trust in institutions also grew strongly in the pandemic year 2020. Trust in the House of Representatives in particular rose sharply last year (from 39.2 percent in 2019 to 52.4 percent in 2020).
  • Trust in other people: here too the trend is rising. This is the percentage of the population aged 15 years and older who state that people in general are to be trusted. The percentage was 58.3 in 2013 and 63.0 in 2020.
  • Changes in values and norms: this is measured by the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) as the percentage of the population aged 18 and over who feel that their values and norms have improved or remained the same. The trend period of the previous Monitor still showed a stable trend. It is now rising significantly. The percentage who have a positive opinion on the values and norms in the Netherlands increased from 37.3 percent in 2013 to 43.3 percent in 2019. Figures for 2020 are not yet available.
  • Contact with family, friends or neighbours: these contacts are measured as the percentage of the population aged 15 and over who meet family, friends or neighbours socially at least once a week on average. This share fell from 74.3 percent in 2013 to 71.2 percent in 2020. Over the past year, this type of social contact has decreased significantly, by 1.0 percentage point. This is undoubtedly related to people’s limited ability to meet due to the coronavirus measures.
  • Voluntary work: this is the percentage of the population aged 15 and over who did voluntary work for organisations or associations in the previous 12 months. This may involve administrative or other activities. This share fell from 49.1 percent in 2013 to 43.8 percent in 2020. As in the case of contact with family, friends or neighbours, here too there was a significant decline, of 2.9 percentage points, in 2020.

The SDG agenda devotes a lot of attention to the extent to which people participate in society, and particularly whether all groups have equal opportunities to participate in society. This social participation is very important because of the social capital that is built up, namely the trust that citizens have in each other and in institutions and the values and norms that can be shared more widely as a result.

SDG 1 is focused on reducing all forms of poverty. This includes both financial aspects and the impact of poverty on people’s lives. The SDG agenda calls for attention to be focused particularly on social protection, equal economic rights and resilience of poor and vulnerable groups. Although poverty issues in the Netherlands are of a different order than those in the world’s least developed countries, people are also at risk of relative poverty. Various indicators have therefore been added to the SDG 1 dashboard for the Dutch context. Government policy focuses on preventing and combating poverty and problematic debt, with particular attention devoted to children living in poverty (CBS, 2021b). The coronavirus crisis has made this issue all the more relevant. Poverty and debt are being tackled through accelerated measures by local authorities and civil society organisations, and through coronavirus-related support packages such as TOZO, NOW and TONK.

SDG 1 presents a mixed picture. In part, it underlines the positive conclusions mentioned under the theme of material well-being. With regard to income, there is a rising trend (in both the average and median disposable income). Median household wealth is also trending higher. No 2020 figures are yet available for these indicators.

Alongside these positive developments, it should be noted that the percentage of households having to live on long-term low incomes showed a rising trend in the years 2013–2019. The number of homeless people also trended higher between 2013 and 2020. The poverty risk of minors (the percentage belonging to a low-income family) has decreased. The risk of poverty and social exclusion has remained stable; the Netherlands ranked sixth in the EU27 for this indicator in 2019. There is also a declining trend in the percentage of people who are very worried about their financial future. It is notable that this financial concern about the future continued to decrease in 2020. The government’s coronavirus support packages may have bolstered public confidence.

The distribution of well-being is discussed in detail in Chapter 3. In summary, well-being is most strongly correlated with education level and migration background. The low-skilled group scores below average on a relatively large number of indicators. The precise opposite is true of the highly educated group, which has above-average scores for many well-being indicators. Personal characteristics such as age, sex, education level and migration background are not independent of each other. For example, people with a non-western migration background are on average fairly young and quite likely to be low-skilled. Older people are also relatively likely to be low-skilled. The difference in the accumulation of favourable or unfavourable outcomes is greatest between low-skilled and highly educated people. This also applies if the interrelationship between the various personal characteristics is taken into account. After education level, the biggest distinguishing factors are age and migration background. Sex plays the smallest role.

SDG 5 is aimed at equal treatment of men and women and an equal position in society. It is intended to put an end to the disadvantaged position of women and girls in particular across a wide range of areas, including coercion and violence, employment and health care, and influence in public life.

With regard to the distribution of well-being between men and women, the figures for SDG 5 (Sex equality) show that education level and economic independence of both men and women have increased. In addition, the sex pay gap (where women are at a disadvantage) has tended to narrow. In 2020 the difference in hourly pay between men and women was 13.7 percent. Looking beyond the economic side of sex equality, the picture is more mixed. The proportion of women in parliament has decreased, for example, while the proportion of women in higher education is among the lowest in Europe (23rd in the EU27 in 2018). More women than men are engaged in studies; the trend has changed from stable to rising (green). With regard to the proportion of women in management positions, the Netherlands occupies a middle position relative to other European countries (22nd in the EU27 in 2019), although the trend is green and rising, whereas it was previously stable (grey). After the elections on 17 March 2021, the number of women elected to the new House of Representatives rose to 59, a share of 39 percent. The distribution of well-being between men and women is explained in more detail in Chapter 3. The differences are minimal. Five indicators show more positive outcomes for men than for women, while in three cases the reverse is true. There is no difference in the other indicators. At individual level men experience an accumulation of favourable outcomes slightly more often than women and an accumulation of unfavourable outcomes slightly less often.

SDG 10 aims to reduce inequality within and between countries. Social cohesion within countries is promoted by reducing social and economic inequalities and increasing inclusion and opportunities for all. Many indicators have been added to take account of the Dutch policy context. Dashboard 10.1 focuses on social cohesion, inclusion and equality. Social cohesion is indispensable for the proper functioning of society. It is based on the social infrastructure, such as family ties, neighbours, friends, clubs and associations, as well as interpersonal care and support. People must be able to take part in these relationships, in order to feel they are part of a group. Migration issues occupy a special place in this context.

With regard to social participation, dashboard 10.1 shows a decreasing trend for indicators such as contact with family, friends or neighbours, participation in clubs and associations and voluntary work. In 2020 in particular there is a sharp and significant drop in social participation, no doubt due to the lockdown measures. The Netherlands ranks highly among EU member states in this area, however. The high level of social participation is also reflected in the high level of trust citizens have in one another and in the main institutions, and in their endorsement of key values and norms. Trust in institutions (particularly in the House of Representatives) is significantly higher in 2020.

Safety

The theme of safety in the ‘here and now’ dashboard is covered by two indicators.

  • Often feeling unsafe in the neighbourhood (SDG 16.1.4): this indicator is related to the percentage of people aged 15 and over who often feel unsafe in their own neighbourhood. This percentage fell from 1.8 in 2013 to 1.4 in 2019. These figures are taken from the Safety Monitor that is published every two years. No new figures have been published for 2020.
  • Victims of crime (SDGs 11.7.2 and 16.1.3): measured as the percentage of the population aged 15 and over who have been victims of crime as private individuals. These figures do not include cybercrime. The percentage of victims of crime fell from 19.8 percent in 2013 to 13.7 percent in 2019. Again, the source is the biennial Safety Monitor and there are no figures for 2020.

More aspects of safety are covered in SDG 16. This SDG aims among other things to promote a peaceful and safe society. The figures from SDG 16 (dashboard 1) show that the trend in the number of police officers per 100,000 inhabitants is decreasing (red). The number of registered crimes and the crime victim rate are also declining, although the trend is green because this is favourable from the perspective of well-being.

The environment

The final theme in the ‘here and now’ dashboard is the environment.

  • Managed natural spaces in the Netherlands Nature Network (NNN): in the Netherlands, nature has been protected within the NNN since 2011. This is the network of existing nature areas and those still to be created, including national parks and the Natura 2000 areas, as well as land farmed under agricultural nature management schemes and land purchased for nature development. In 2013, the acreage of the NNN encompassed 17.3 percent of the land surface of the Netherlands. In 2019, this share was 20.7 percent. The trend is rising, in line with the ambition of creating at least 80,000 hectares of additional natural spaces by 2027 compared to 2011.
  • Urban exposure to the finest particulate matter (PM2.5) (SDG 11.6.2): this exposure to particulate matter is expressed as the number of micrograms per m3. Particulate matter is harmful to health and leads in particular to a deterioration in the condition of people with cardiac and pulmonary diseases. Exposure to this finest particulate matter fell from 14.0 percent in 2013 to 10.4 percent in 2019. The trend is green.
  • Fresh water and marsh fauna: this indicator describes the trend in populations or the distribution (depending on the species) of fauna typical of fresh water and marshland areas. The indicator is made up of underlying figures relating to 136 native species typical of fresh water and marshland areas: mammals (5 species), breeding birds (29 species), fish (30 species), amphibians (14 species), dragonflies (57 species) and butterflies (1 species). This indicator is an index based on 1990=100. After having risen for many years since 1990, this index fell from 144.1 in 2013 to 139.1 in 2019.
  • Land fauna: this indicator comprises 213 native species of mammals (26 species), breeding birds (130 species), reptiles (7 species) and butterflies (50 species) occurring on land. The trend for this fauna indicator is also red.
  • Environmental problems: this concerns the percentage of the population aged 16 and over who experience environmental problems. This percentage has remained stable in recent years and the Netherlands occupies a middle position in the EU ranking in this area. It is notable that the percentage of environmental problems decreased significantly in 2020.

The SDG agenda naturally identifies a wide range of environmental problems, most of which are discussed in the ‘later’ dimension under the heading of natural capital. With regard to well-being ‘here and now’, SDG 2 provides important information on food quality. For example, the 2013–2020 period shows a rising trend in the proportion of organic farming (although this percentage remains low by European standards), a lower volume of chemical plant protection products used per million euros of agricultural production volume (this use also being among the lowest in Europe) and a decreasing trend in the use of antibiotics in livestock farming. The market share of organic food has increased markedly in recent years and a similar development can be seen for meat with a sustainability label.

SDG 14 focuses on the protection of seas and oceans and on the sustainable use of marine resources. Seawater covers around three-quarters of the planet and constitutes the world’s largest ecosystem. The increasing negative effects of climate change, overfishing and pollution threaten both the intrinsic value of the ecosystem itself and the use made of it. SDG 15 concerns the protection, restoration and sustainable management of all forms of life on land.

Protecting and restoring ecosystems and biodiversity can strengthen resilience to increasing population pressure, intensification of land use and climate change. Healthy ecosystems underpin processes that have a major impact on well-being, such as the availability of clean water and air, the presence of insects for pollination and opportunities for relaxation, recreation and education. Nature has intrinsic value for well-being ‘here and now’ and for future generations. It is also a critical factor: once ecosystems are destroyed, the damage may prove irreparable.

As far as the state of nature and ecosystems is concerned, SDG 14 (Life below water) shows that the trends are stable and that the Netherlands has an average score in the Clean Water Index in 2020 (16th in the EU27 in 2020). SDG 15 (Life on land) shows indicators focused on the state of nature and biodiversity on land. As stated above, the percentage of the total land area categorised as managed natural spaces in the NNN is rising. Other indicators in the SDG 15 dashboard, however, paint a gloomier picture of this theme. For example, the amount of green space and blue space (excluding regular agriculture) is decreasing. This acreage per capita includes green and/or natural areas in both urban and rural areas, excluding regular agriculture and excluding the North Sea. Three biodiversity indicators, namely the Red List Index, the aforementioned land fauna and the farmland bird index, are also trending lower. The state of natural land areas and biodiversity similarly falls below European standards. The percentage of natural spaces and forest areas is among the lowest in Europe and the nitrogen surplus per hectare of arable land is the highest of all 19 EU countries for which figures are available.

Trend reversals

There were trend reversals in six indicators in the ‘here and now’ dashboard. In the case of three indicators, the trend changed in a positive direction. In the trend period of the previous Monitor (2012–2019), the trends for ‘long-term unemployment’ and ‘values and norms’ were stable. These stable (grey) trends have now become green trends in the 2013–2020 trend period. For ‘satisfaction with leisure time’, the previous red trend has turned into a stable trend. In all these cases, there was progress from the point of view of well-being. However, the ‘satisfaction with life’, ‘individual consumption’ and ‘quality of inland bathing waters’ indicators show a deterioration: the trend in these indicators was previously green but has now changed to stable (grey).

Positions in the EU ranking

The level of well-being ‘here and now’ in the Netherlands compared to the other 26 EU countries is presented below. Where possible, the Netherlands was compared to all EU member states (EU27); where no data (or no recent data) were available for all countries, the comparison was made with fewer member states.

The Netherlands is high in the European ranking for the following indicators.

Theme of subjective well-being:

  • Satisfaction with life: 2nd out of 23 countries (2018)
  • Feeling in control of own life: 3rd out of 27 countries (2017)

Theme of material well-being:

  • Median disposable income: 6th out of 27 countries (2018)
  • Individual consumption: 6th out of 27 countries (2019)

Theme of labour and leisure time:

  • Long-term unemployment; 7th out of 27 countries (2019)
  • Net labour participation: 1st out of 27 countries (2019)
  • Satisfaction with leisure time: 6th out of 27 countries (2018)
  • Job satisfaction: 7th out of 27 countries (2017)

Theme of society:

  • Contact with family, friends or neighbours: 2nd out of 23 countries (2018). The international comparison includes colleagues that people meet socially rather than neighbours.
  • Voice and accountability: 4th out of 27 countries (2019)
  • Trust in institutions (SDG 16.6.2): 3rd out of 23 countries (2018)
  • Trust in other people: 3rd out of 23 (2018)
  • Voluntary work: 1st out of 27 (2015)

For the following indicator, the Netherlands is low in the European ranking:

Theme of health:

  • Healthy life expectancy of women (SDG 3.4.1): 21st out of 27 countries (2018). (In a European perspective, men occupy a middle position with regard to healthy life expectancy).

All information on the well-being trends ‘here and now’ is summarised in Figure 2.2.2.

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 2013–2020). 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 to 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:
GREEN GREEN
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.
GREY GREY
No significant increase or decrease in the indicator. The Netherlands is in the middle of the EU ranking.
RED RED
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.
2.2.2   Trends in well-being: Here and now
Trendsinwell-beingHere and now-4.3%Gross domesticproductPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-20205th out of 27PositiveNegativeClick for more information-2.5%ptSubjective well-beingSatisfaction withlifePosition in EU in 2018Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-20202nd out of 23NeutralNegativeClick for more information+1.5%ptSubjective well-beingPersonal well-beingindexMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-2020PositiveNeutralClick for more information+0.5%ptSubjective well-beingFeeling in controlof own lifePosition in EU in 2017Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-20193rd out of 27NeutralNeutralClick for more information+1.9%Material well-beingMedian disposableincomePosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-20196th out of 27PositiveNeutralClick for more information-5.7%Material well-beingIndividualconsumptionPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-20206th out of 27NeutralNeutralClick for more information+2.6%HealthHealthy life expectancyof menPosition in EU in 2018Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202015th out of 27NeutralPositiveClick for more information+4.3%HealthHealthy life expectancyof womenPosition in EU in 2018Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202021st out of 27NeutralPositiveClick for more information+0.1%ptHealthOverweightpopulationPosition in EU in 2016Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202010th out of 27NegativeNeutralClick for more information-0.1%ptLabour and leisure timeLong-termunemploymentPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-20207th out of 27PositiveNeutralClick for more information-0.4%ptLabour and leisure timeNet labourparticipationPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-20201st out of 27PositiveNeutralClick for more information+1.7%ptLabour and leisure timeHigher educatedpopulationPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202010th out of 27PositiveNeutralClick for more information+2.2%ptLabour and leisure timeSatisfaction withleisure timePosition in EU in 2018Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-20206th out of 27NeutralPositiveClick for more information+6.2%Labour and leisure timeTime lost due totraffic congestion and delaysMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-2019NegativeNeutralClick for more information+1.3%ptLabour and leisure timeSatisfaction withwork (employees)Position in EU in 2017Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-20207th out of 27NeutralPositiveClick for more information-0.1%ptHousingHousingqualityPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202018th out of 27NeutralNeutralClick for more information0.0%ptHousingSatisfaction withhousingPosition in EU in 2017Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-20208th out of 27NeutralNeutralClick for more information-1.0%ptSocietyContact with family,friends or neighboursPosition in EU in 2018Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-20202nd out of 23NegativeNegativeClick for more information-2.0%SocietyVoice andaccountabilityPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-20194th out of 27NeutralNeutralClick for more information+6.4%ptSocietyTrust ininstitutionsPosition in EU in 2018Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-20203rd out of 23PositivePositiveClick for more information+1.2%ptSocietyTrust inother peoplePosition in EU in 2018Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-20203rd out of 23PositiveNeutralClick for more information-3.4%ptSocietyChanges in valuesand normsMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-2019PositiveNeutralClick for more information-2.9%ptSocietyVoluntaryworkPosition in EU in 2015Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-20201st out of 27NegativeNegativeClick for more information0.0%ptSafetyOften feeling unsafein the neighbourhoodMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2017-2019PositivePositiveClick for more information-0.8%ptSafetyVictims ofcrimePosition in EU in 2018Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2017-201914th out of 23PositivePositiveClick for more information+0.1%ptEnvironmentManaged natural assetswithin NNNMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-2019PositiveNeutralClick for more information-0.3%ptEnvironmentQuality of inlandbathing watersPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202015th out of 25NeutralNeutralClick for more information-0.8%EnvironmentFauna in freshwaterand marshesMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-2019NegativeNeutralClick for more information-0.9%EnvironmentFauna onlandMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-2019NegativeNeutralClick for more information+1.6%ptEnvironmentNitrogen deposition andterrestrial nature areasMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2017-2018NeutralNeutralClick for more information-11.9%EnvironmentUrban exposure toparticulate matter (PM2.5)Position in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-20198th out of 26PositiveNeutralClick for more information-0.8%ptEnvironmentEnvironmentalproblemsPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202018th out of 27NeutralPositiveClick for more information
Close this theme
02010304050607080910111214131516211718192022232425272628293031GDPper capitaEU rankingThe bars show the Netherlands’ ranking in the European Union for each indicator.Low rankingHigh rankingMiddle rankingKeySubjectivewell-beingMaterial well-beingHousingSafetyHealthEnvironmentSocietyImprovement in well-beingNo changeDeterioration in well-beingMedium-term trend (8 years)Change (most recent year)Key01 Satisfaction with life / 02 Personal well-being index / 03 Feeling in control of own life / 04 Median disposable income / 05 Individual consumption / 06 Healthy life expectancy of men / 07 Healthy life expectancy of women / 08 Overweight population / 09 Long-term unemployment / 10 Net labour participation / 11 Higher educated population / 12 Satisfaction with leisure time / 13 14 Satisfaction with work (employees) / Time lost due to traffic congestion and delays / 15 Housing quality / 16 Satisfaction with housing / 17 Contact with family, friends or neighbours / 18 Voice and accountability / 19 Trust in institutions / 20 Trust in other people / 21 Changes in values and norms / 22 Voluntary work / 23 Often feeling unsafe in the neighbourhood / 24 Victims of crime / 25 Managed natural assets within NNN / 26 Quality of inland bathing waters / 27 Fauna in freshwater and marshes / 28 Fauna on land / 29 Nitrogen deposition and terrestrial nature areas / 30 Urban exposure to particulate matter (PM2.5) / 31 Environmental problemsInsufficient data (quality)

2.3Well-being ‘later’

This section gives an overview of the trend of well-being ‘later’ in the 2013–2020 period, the most recent year-on-year changes and the Netherlands’ position in the EU ranking in the most recent year for which international data are available. It looks first at what is meant by well-being ‘later’.

Well-being ‘later’ concerns the resources that future generations need in order to achieve at least the same level of well-being as that of the current generation. The choices that the Dutch make collectively ‘here and now’ have consequences for future generations in the Netherlands. All manner of resources, referred to here as ‘capital’, are needed to maintain quality of life. We distinguish between economic, natural, human and social capital. The important point is that the amount of capital per capita must be at least constant over the longer term.

Economic capital comprises the machinery and tools, ICT, knowledge capital and infrastructure required to create material well-being and generate economic growth. These are physical capital goods that are mainly important for the economic process. Knowledge capital, sustained in part by investment in research and development, is also important in order for the Dutch economy to function. Debt is considered to be negative economic capital. This debt is offset by household wealth.

Natural capital consists of various types of resources. This refers not only to raw materials (in the case of the Netherlands mainly fossil fuels such as crude oil and natural gas), but also to the quality of nature and the environment. This includes biodiversity (measured on the basis of fresh water and marsh fauna, as well as land fauna, which can be seen as benchmarks for species diversity), the general quality of the atmosphere (linked to COemissions) and the quality of soil, water and air locally. Capacity for renewable forms of energy is also included under natural capital, because it can counter the use of non-renewable energy sources as well as greenhouse gas emissions.

The ‘labour’ factor is central to human capital. This concerns not only the number of hours worked, but also the quality of the labour potential measured in terms of education level and health.

Lastly, social capital reflects the quality of social connections in society. Following the CES Recommendations of UNECE, social capital is measured as the extent of trust that citizens have in one another and in the major institutions (UNECE, 2014). The literature on social capital emphasises that in addition to the trust of all citizens, trust between different groups must also be examined. In the Monitor this is measured by the indicator for feelings of discrimination. This describes the extent to which people feel part of specific groups in society that have the perception of not being able to participate fully in the social process or of not being fully accepted as they are.

2.3.1   Broad well-being 'later'

Economic capital

€ 146
The long-term trend indicates a decline in broad well-being
7th
€ 10.74
5th
€ 101,459
The long-term trend indicates a decline in broad well-being
22nd
€ 49,800
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being

Natural capital

964.3
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
18th
20.7%
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
907.6
The long-term trend indicates a decline in broad well-being
1.2
12th
176.4
19th
83
The long-term trend indicates a decline in broad well-being
139
The long-term trend indicates a decline in broad well-being
5.1%
The long-term trend indicates a decline in broad well-being
69
8th
10.4
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
8th
7.7
The long-term trend indicates a decline in broad well-being
13th

Human capital

762.3
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
18th
34.2%
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
10th
65.9
21st
66.5
15th

Social capital

63.0%
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
3rd
8.7%
17th
69.5%
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
3rd

This dashboard shows, for each indicator successively, the most recent figure for the Netherlands, the trend in the 2013–2020 period and a chart of the EU ranking showing the Netherlands’ position in the EU27.

The key trends in well-being ‘later’ in the 2013–2020 period are described below.

Summary overview

For human capital and social capital, all indicators show a stable to rising trend. The picture for economic and natural capital is mixed, depending on the types of resources in question.

Economic capital

Notable developments can be seen in two indicators.

  • Physical capital stock: this refers to tangible assets that are used in the production process for longer than one year. The physical capital stock is valued in constant 2015 prices and expressed as the value of the capital stock per hour worked. Agricultural assets are included. Hours worked are the total number of hours which employees and/or self-employed people have actually worked during the reporting period. Unworked hours due to leave or sickness therefore do not count. The trend in this capital indicator is red. The number of hours worked increased substantially up to the end of 2019, more than the volume of capital stock itself, causing this indicator to trend lower.
  • Average household debt: Dutch households had an average of just over 100,000 euros of debt in 2019. The trend is rising (turning from neutral to red) and the Netherlands is at the lower end of the EU ranking (22nd out of 24). Opposite these debts, households have savings (currency and deposits) and non-financial assets, such as their homes.
  • Median household wealth: the trend here is rising, and it is green because this is a favourable development from the point of view of well-being. On 1 January 2019, the median wealth was 49,800 euros. The increase is mainly due to the continued rise in value of owner-occupied homes.

Economic capital consists of the components physical capital (SDG 8, dashboard 1) and knowledge capital (especially SDG 9, dashboard 3). The theme of financial sustainability is addressed in SDG 10 (dashboard 2).

SDG 8 (dashboard 1) focuses among other things on making economic growth more sustainable and efficient (devoting attention to innovation, entrepreneurship and the environment). It is notable that the level of gross investment in tangible assets is relatively low in European terms. The Netherlands is in the middle in terms of the number of hours worked per capita. The strength of the Dutch economy clearly lies in labour productivity. This type of productivity, measured in terms of gross value added per hour worked, is high compared to other European countries and is closely linked to the Netherlands’ highly developed knowledge economy. SDG 9 (dashboard 3) focuses on knowledge, which is essential for increasing economic performance and finding solutions to pressing societal issues. Knowledge can be converted into new technologies and processes, which in turn can be used to improve products and production processes and make them more sustainable. In addition, knowledge has sociocultural and intrinsic value. Important aspects in this regard are public and private investment in knowledge, expanding ICT and other technology and an increasing stock of knowledge capital. Internet access is essential for access to knowledge. SDG 9 shows that the Netherlands occupies a high position in the EU ranking for a large number of innovation indicators. In addition, gross investments in tangible fixed assets and the number of hours worked in research and development (R&D) have trended higher. It is also notable that access to finance for SMEs has improved (SDG 9, dashboard 2).

A final aspect of the economic capital highlighted in the SDG agenda concerns financial sustainability. SDG 10 (dashboard 2) describes the financial sustainability of Dutch well-being and the financial situation of households. Debts are incurred and capital is accrued collectively as well as individually. The financial liabilities of the government and households have an impact on the well-being of future generations. Financial systems may prove vulnerable when confronted with an ageing population, economic crises, increasing globalisation and changing solidarity between generations and population groups.

SDG 10 (dashboard 2) provides insight into the relationship between the working and non-working parts of the population. Grey pressure (the ratio of people aged 65 and over to those aged 20–64) and green pressure (the ratio of young people aged under 20 to those aged 20–64) have both developed unfavourably in terms of the sustainability of well-being, particularly over the past decade. The Netherlands is nevertheless in the top group of EU countries with regard to green pressure.

Pension capital accrued through pension funds is not freely available or transferable, but it does contribute to households’ financial security. Estimated pension capital has therefore been added as an indicator to the second dashboard of SDG 10. Pension capital has been estimated on the basis of factors including life expectancy and the expected return on pension contributions (adjusted for inflation). It averaged over 160,000 euros per household in 2018. If pension capital is added to their other wealth, the total amounts to almost half of households’ total wealth.

The pension funds’ coverage ratio – the ratio of assets (pension capital) to liabilities (pension entitlements of all participants) – gives an impression of whether the funds are in a position to pay out current and future pensions. This coverage ratio was 100.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020, compared to 104.0 percent at the end of 2019. The trend in this indicator is rising and red due to population ageing combined with changes in the value of the investments.

The trend in the pension entitlements indicator has changed from green to neutral. The expected pension from work (estimated using the median gross pension income of persons aged 65–74) was 51 percent of income from work (approximated on the basis of median gross income from work of 50–59‑year olds) in 2020. It only includes pension accrued during the working life, i.e. excluding state pension provision (the first pillar).

Opposite the debts, households have savings (currency and deposits) and non-financial assets, such as their homes. Dutch households had an average of just over 100,000 euros of debt in 2019. The trend is rising (from neutral to red) and the Netherlands is at the lower end of the EU ranking (22nd out of 24 in 2019). Households with a home loan have an average mortgage debt of almost 200,000 euros (in 2019). The level of these debts is rising (red). In the case of savings the trend is neutral; with an average of 55,000 euros per household, the Netherlands occupied a middle position in Europe in 2019.

Government debt as a percentage of GDP, also referred to as the gross debt ratio, stood at just under 49 percent at the end of 2019. This key indicator of the state of public finances was almost 20 percentage points lower than at the peak in 2014. It provided a relatively favourable starting position when coronavirus measures (especially the NOW and TOZO schemes) caused expenditure to rise sharply in 2020. At the end of 2020, the gross debt ratio still stood at 54.5 percent of GDP, thus maintaining the medium-term downward trend. The formal European ceiling for government debt is 60 percent of GDP.

Natural capital

In natural capital there are some trends that are favourable from the perspective of well-being, but also some unfavourable ones.

  • Renewable electricity capacity: this includes wind, water and solar energy. Capacity for generating electricity from biomass is not included in the calculations. The operational capacity for renewable electricity in the Netherlands increased in the 2013–2020 trend period from 202 to 964 megawatts per million inhabitants. Growth has been exceptional particularly in recent years: in 2020, capacity was 43 percent higher than in 2019. In 2019, however, the Netherlands ranked 18th out of 27 EU countries for this indicator. This indicator refers to operational capacity, not actual energy generation. The latter is considerably lower than the potential capacity, particularly in the case of solar energy.
  • Managed natural spaces in the Netherlands Nature Network (NNN): in the Netherlands, nature has been protected within the NNN since 2011. This is the network of existing nature areas and those still to be created, including national parks and the Natura 2000 areas, as well as land farmed under agricultural nature management schemes and land purchased for nature development. In 2013, the acreage of the NNN encompassed 17.3 percent of the land surface of the Netherlands. In 2019, this share was 20.7 percent. The trend is rising, in line with the ambition of creating at least 80,000 hectares of additional natural spaces by 2027 compared to 2011.
  • Urban exposure to particulate matter (PM2.5): the steady downward trend in the urban background concentration of particulate matter is also favourable. Particulate matter is a collective term referring to suspended particles in the air. This Monitor includes the finer fraction of particulate matter, PM2.5. This consists of particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter.
  • Green and blue space, excluding regular agriculture: this is a new indicator. Calculated per capita, this surface area shows a downward (red) trend. The total number of hectares of this space in the Netherlands nevertheless increased slightly between 2015 and 2018, almost entirely due to fields and grassland with some form of agricultural nature management. The growth of these plots conceals the decrease in size of many other landscape elements such as hedges, rows of trees and hedgerows, and woodland.
  • Fresh water and marsh fauna: this indicator describes the trend in populations or the distribution (depending on the species) of fauna typical of fresh water and marshland areas. The indicator is made up of underlying figures relating to 136 native species typical of fresh water and marshland areas: mammals (5 species), breeding birds (29 species), fish (30 species), amphibians (14 species), dragonflies (57 species) and butterflies (1 species). This indicator is an index based on 1990=100. After having risen for many years since 1990, this index fell from 144.1 in 2013 to 139.1 in 2019. The trend is red.
  • Land fauna. This indicator comprises 213 native species of mammals (26 species), breeding birds (130 species), reptiles (7 species) and butterflies (50 species) occurring on land. The trend for this fauna indicator is also red.
  • Surface water of good chemical quality: chemical water quality (based on 53 chemical substances or groups of substances) has deteriorated, so the trend is red. The quality is assessed according to the European Water Framework Directivenoot1 system. CBS converts this data in the Natural Capital Accounts to the percentage of surface water of good quality. Although many small bodies of water comply with the standard, in terms of surface area only a relatively small proportion of Dutch water is compliant.
  • Cumulative COemissions: ideally, the theme of climate change should be described with the aid of figures for the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Such concentration figures are difficult to obtain, so it is also hard to define the contribution made by the Netherlands to the problem of CO2. For this reason, it was decided to calculate cumulative COemissions by the Netherlands from the beginning of the first industrial revolution, by adding up annual emissions from 1860. Obviously, this is a figure that cannot decrease. However, it has been included in the Monitor to illustrate the historical extent of the COproblem. Cumulative COemissions rose from 7.5 tonnes per capita in 2013 to 7.7 tonnes in 2020.

Comments on cumulative CO2 emissions per capita

The cumulative COemissions per capita indicator in the ‘later’ dashboard refers to the accumulated COemissions since the beginning of the industrial revolution (taking 1860 as the starting year). Each year, the sum of the annual COemissions up to that point is calculated, and the total is then divided by the size of the population, from 1860 to the present day. These accumulated emissions over the long term are of course important. They have an impact on the quality of the atmosphere and – in all likelihood – contribute to global warming.

Recent emissions series show the extent to which the historical trend of rising emissions (and concentration) of CO2 is being reversed. This indicator (total greenhouse gas emissions calculated according to IPCC rules) is part of SDG 13 (Climate action) in Chapter 4. Per capita annual greenhouse gas emissions on Dutch territory (SDG 13.2.1) are gradually decreasing. In 2013, the total was 11.5 tonnes of COequivalents per capita, falling to 9.5 tonnes in 2020.

Total greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 were 24.5 percent lower than in 1990, according to an initial calculation (March 2021) by CBS and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM)/National Emissions Register. This is close to the Urgenda target of a reduction of at least 25 percent (1990–2020). The difference is small and lies within the margin of error for greenhouse gas emissions. The Urgenda reduction is a target for total emissions, rather than emissions per capita.

Natural capital is a broad theme that recurs in many SDGs.

It comprises the following components: energy consumption and climate change (SDGs 7 and 13), quality of soil, water and air; emissions and waste (SDGs 6, 11 and 12) and nature and ecosystems (SDGs 14, 15).

SDG 7 focuses among other things on sustainability and energy efficiency.

Energy consumption, converted into kilograms of oil equivalents per capita, is high in the Netherlands by European standards (23rd in the EU27 in 2019), but energy is being used ever more efficiently. (Energy intensity shows a decreasing and therefore green trend.) Employment in the sustainable energy sector is also trending higher and the installed capacity of renewable energy has grown. The result of these developments is that the proportion of renewable energy in total energy consumption has risen, albeit remaining low in a European context (25th in the EU27 in 2019).

SDG 13 is aimed at tackling climate change as a result of human actions. Although there is still some way to go to meet the Paris Agreement climate targets, progress has been made in recent years. This is partly due to the above improvements in energy consumption. SDG 13 also shows an increase in government spending on climate mitigation (measures to limit the extent and/or speed of global warming). The greenhouse gas intensity of the economy (expressed in kilograms of COequivalents per euro of GDP) shows a decreasing, and therefore green, trend. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions per capita have trended lower in recent years, although they remain high by European standards. The Netherlands ranked 23rd in the EU27 in 2018.

With regard to the theme of soil, water and air quality (emissions and waste), SDG 6 focuses on water. Water stress (the percentage of fresh water drawn from available water sources) shows a green trend. Water quality is under pressure, however. The percentage of surface water of good chemical quality has declined in recent years.

SDG 12 concentrates on the transition to a circular economy with less dependence on raw materials. The figures in this dashboard show that the trend in both the total volume of municipal waste and the proportion of municipal waste recycled is green, and that the environmental sector’s share of GDP has trended higher.

The increase in raw material productivity (expressed in euros of GDP per kg of material used) is also favourable. The Netherlands leads the way in Europe for this indicator. One of the aims of SDG 11 (dashboard 2) is to make the local living environment sustainable. A large number of the related indicators are green. Emissions of acidifying substances are declining, as is urban exposure to the finer fraction of particulate matter. Furthermore, public spending on environmental protection is among the highest in Europe (second out of 24 EU countries in 2019).

Lastly, natural capital concerns the quality of nature and ecosystems. SDG 14 focuses on the protection of seas and oceans and on the sustainable use of marine resources. Seawater covers around three-quarters of the planet and constitutes the world’s largest ecosystem. The increasing negative effects of climate change, overfishing and pollution threaten both the intrinsic value of the ecosystem itself and the use made of it. SDG 15 concerns the protection, restoration and sustainable management of all forms of life on land. Protecting and restoring ecosystems and biodiversity can strengthen resilience to increasing population pressure, intensification of land use and climate change.

Healthy ecosystems underpin processes that have a major impact on well-being, such as the availability of clean water and air, the presence of insects for pollination and opportunities for relaxation, recreation and education. Nature has intrinsic value for well-being ‘here and now’ and for future generations. It is also a critical factor: once ecosystems are destroyed, the damage may prove irreparable.

As far as the state of nature and ecosystems is concerned, SDG 14 (Life below water) shows that the trends are stable and that the Netherlands has an average score in the Clean Water Index in 2020 (16th in the EU27 in 2020). SDG 15 (Life on land) shows indicators on the state of nature and biodiversity on land. As stated above, the percentage of the total land area categorised as managed natural spaces in the NNN is rising. A number of other indicators in the SDG 15 dashboard nevertheless paint a gloomier picture of this theme. For example, the amount of green space and blue space (excluding regular agriculture) is decreasing. This acreage per capita includes green and/or natural areas in both urban and rural areas, excluding regular agriculture and excluding the North Sea. Three biodiversity indicators, namely the Red List Index, land fauna and the farmland bird index, are also trending lower. The state of natural land areas and biodiversity similarly falls below European standards. The percentage of natural spaces and forest areas is among the lowest in Europe and the nitrogen surplus per hectare of arable land is the highest of all 19 EU countries for which figures are available.

Human capital

In human capital, there are two green trends, which indicate an increase in well-being.

  • Hours worked: this is measured as the total number of hours that self-employed persons and employees actually worked in a year, divided by the size of the population in persons. This number rose from 735 hours in 2013 to 762 in 2020. Yet a significant decrease was recorded in 2020, as the figure in 2019 was still 795 hours.
  • Highly educated population: the fact that the contribution of education to well-being is measured here on the basis of the relative size of the highly educated population does not mean other forms of education, such as vocational training and craftsmanship, are not relevant to well-being. It is clear, however, that more highly educated people generally achieve a higher level of well-being in numerous areas of society (see Chapter 3). The highly educated population is measured as the percentage of the population aged 15–74 that has successfully completed higher vocational or university studies. This rose from 28.3 percent in 2013 to 34.2 percent in 2020.

Human capital looks at how humans can contribute to well-being from an economic perspective. This type of capital consists of three components. The first to be examined is labour volume: the total number of hours worked in society. In addition to this quantitative measure, the quality of labour is also examined. This focuses on the health and education level and skills of the labour force.

SDG 8 (dashboard 2) shows that the labour theme in the Netherlands is trending positively across a broad front. While unemployment, long-term unemployment and unused labour potential show a downward trend, a significant increase in the vacancy rate (number of vacancies per thousand jobs) and in net labour participation can be seen over the 2013–2020 period. The only unfavourable trend in this SDG occurs in mental fatigue caused by work (among employees). The percentage of employees experiencing work fatigue rose from 14.4 in 2014 (the first year of measurement) to 15.7 in 2020. This fatigue was nevertheless significantly less in 2020 than in 2019 (17.0 percent). With the exception of average working hours per week (in which the Netherlands ranked 25th in the EU in 2019), the Netherlands occupies a leading position in Europe for most of the indicators.

The education component of human capital can be assessed by reference to SDG 4. SDG 4 (Quality education) provides some important insights with regard to the level of education. The percentage of early school leavers is trending lower, while a steadily increasing part of the population aged 25 to 64 per year reports having been in education in the four weeks prior to the survey (SDG indicator 4.3.1: lifelong learning). Participation in pre-school education has changed from decreasing to stable. The Netherlands is in a leading position for this indicator in Europe. The Dutch population also has a high level of education and skills by European standards, although these figures are not very recent.

Health has also developed well in the recent period. Healthy life expectancy shows a stable trend for both men and women. The percentage of the population over the age of 12 who smoke has decreased. In addition, the percentage of people whose daily functions are seriously limited by chronic disability has decreased. The trend has changed from stable to green and the Netherlands occupies a high position in the EU ranking for this indicator. Perceived health in the Netherlands showed a declining trend in previous measurements, whereas now it is stable. On the other hand, an increasing proportion of the population feels mentally unhealthy.

Social capital

Social capital shows a positive picture: there are two green trends and the Netherlands ranks highly within the EU.

  • Trust in institutions (SDG 16.6.2): this trust is measured as the percentage of the population aged 15 and over who have sufficient trust in institutions (score of 6 or higher on a scale of 1 to 10). Three institutions are included here: the House of Representatives, the police and the legal system. The percentage of the population trusting these institutions rose from 56 percent in 2013 to 69.5 in 2020. It is striking that trust in institutions also grew strongly in the pandemic year 2020. Trust in the House of Representatives in particular rose sharply last year (from 39.2 percent in 2019 to 52.4 percent in 2020).
  • Trust in other people: here too the trend is rising. These are the percentage of the population aged 15 and over who state that people in general are to be trusted. The percentage was 58.3 in 2013 and 63.0 in 2020.

The social capital of society comprises the social contact people have with each other and the interpersonal trust that is hopefully built up as a result. People’s trust in institutions is another important component of social capital.

Important information on social capital can be found in particular in SDG 10 (dashboard 1), which focuses on social cohesion, inclusion and equality. Social cohesion is indispensable for the fabric of society; it is based on the social infrastructure, such as family ties, neighbours, friends, clubs and associations, and interpersonal care and support. People must be able to take part in these relationships in order to feel they are part of a group. Migration issues occupy a special place in this context.

With regard to social participation, SDG 10 shows a decreasing trend for indicators such as contact with family, friends or neighbours, participation in clubs and associations and voluntary work. In 2020 in particular a sharp and significant fall in social participation can be seen, no doubt due to the lockdown measures. The Netherlands ranks highly among EU member states in this area, however. This high level of social participation is also reflected in the high level of trust citizens have in one another and in the main institutions, as well as in their endorsement of key standards and values. Trust in institutions (particularly in the House of Representatives) is significantly higher in 2020.

Trend reversals

For two indicators in the ‘later’ dashboard, the trend has reversed in a direction that is unfavourable from the perspective of well-being. These are the stock of knowledge capital and average household debt. For the stock of knowledge capital, the trend calculated over the trend period of the previous Monitor (2012–2019) was green; on the basis of the available data points in the years 2013–2020, it has now become a stable trend. In the case of average household debt the trend has turned from grey to red.

Positions in the EU ranking

The level of well-being ‘later’ in the Netherlands compared to the other EU countries is set out below. Where possible, the Netherlands was compared to all EU member states (EU27); where no data (or no recent data) were available for all countries, the comparison was made with fewer member states.

With regard to social capital, the Netherlands occupies an average to high position in the EU ranking. By contrast, for economic, human and natural capital, the Netherlands has an average to low score. For natural capital, we see these relatively low scores in Chapter 4 also in relation to SDG 7 (Affordable and clean energy), SDG 13 (Climate action) and SDG 15 (Life on land).

A more specific look at the indicators within the various themes shows that the Netherlands is high in the European rankings for the following indicators:

Theme of social capital:

It is only in this theme that the Netherlands is positioned in the leading group:

  • Trust in other people: 3rd out of 23 countries (2018)
  • Trust in institutions: 3rd out of 23 countries (2018)

For the following indicators, the Netherlands is low in the European ranking:

Theme of economic capital:

  • Average household debt: 22nd out of 24 countries (2019)

Theme of natural capital:

  • Nitrogen surplus: 19th out of 19 countries (2017)
  • Cumulative COemissions: 13th out of 16 countries (2018)

Theme of human capital:

  • Healthy life expectancy of women (SDG 3.4.1): 21st out of 27 countries (2018).

All information on well-being ‘later’ is summarised in Figure 2.3.2.

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 2013–2020). 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 to 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:
Green Green
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.
Grey Grey
No significant increase or decrease in the indicator. The Netherlands is in the middle of the EU ranking.
Red Red
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.
2.3.2   Trends in well-being: Later
Trendsinwell-beingLater-4.3%Gross domesticproductPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-20205th out of 27PositiveNegativeClick for more information-0.5%Economic capitalPhysical capitalstockPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-20197th out of 12NegativeNeutralClick for more information-1.0%Economic capitalKnowledge capitalstockPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-20195th out of 12NeutralNeutralClick for more information+0.2%Economic capitalAverage householddebtPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-201922nd out of 24NegativeNeutralClick for more information+29.1%Economic capitalMedian wealthof householdsMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-2019PositiveNeutralClick for more information+43.5%Natural capitalRenewable electricitycapacityPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202018th out of 27PositivePositiveClick for more information+0.1%ptNatural capitalManaged natural assetswithin NNNMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-2019PositiveNeutralClick for more information-0.4%Natural capitalGreen blue space,excluding conventional farmingMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2015-2018NegativeNegativeClick for more information-70.0%Natural capitalPhosphorussurplusPosition in EU in 2017Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202012th out of 18NeutralNeutralClick for more information+12.4%Natural capitalNitrogensurplusPosition in EU in 2017Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202019th out of 19NeutralNeutralClick for more information-0.9%Natural capitalFauna onlandMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-2019NegativeNeutralClick for more information-0.8%Natural capitalFauna in freshwaterand marshesMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-2019NegativeNeutralClick for more information+1.3%ptNatural capitalSurface water withgood chemical qualityMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-2020NegativeNeutralClick for more information+16.4%Natural capitalGround waterabstractionPosition in EU in 2018Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2017-20188th out of 15NeutralNeutralClick for more information-11.9%Natural capitalUrban exposure toparticulate matter (PM2.5)Position in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-20198th out of 26PositiveNeutralClick for more information+1.3%Natural capitalCumulative CO2emissionsPosition in EU in 2018Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202013th out of 16NegativeNeutralClick for more information-4.1%Human capitalHoursworkedPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202018th out of 27PositiveNegativeClick for more information+1.7%ptHuman capitalHigher educatedpopulationPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202010th out of 27PositiveNeutralClick for more information+4.3%Human capitalHealthy life expectancyof womenPosition in EU in 2018Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202021st out of 27NeutralPositiveClick for more information+2.6%Human capitalHealthy life expectancyof menPosition in EU in 2018Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202015th out of 27NeutralPositiveClick for more information+1.2%ptSocial capitalTrust inother peoplePosition in EU in 2018Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-20203rd out of 23PositiveNeutralClick for more information+0.6%ptSocial capitalFeelings ofdiscriminationPosition in EU in 2018Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2016-201817th out of 23NeutralNeutralClick for more information+6.4%ptSocial capitalTrust ininstitutionsPosition in EU in 2018Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-20203rd out of 23PositivePositiveClick for more information
Close this theme
02010304050607080910111213141516171819202122EU rankingThe bars show the Netherlands’ ranking in the European Union for each indicator.Low rankingHigh rankingMiddle rankingKeyImprovement in well-beingNo changeDeterioration in well-beingMedium-term trend (8 years)Change (most recent year)KeyInsufficient data (quality)GDPper capitaEconomiccapitalNatural capitalHuman capitalSocial capital01 Physical capital stock / 02 Knowledge capital stock / 03 Average household debt / 04 Median wealth of households / 05 Renewable electricity capacity / 06 Managed natural assets within NNN / 07 Green blue space, excluding conventional farming / 08 Phosphorus surplus / 09 Nitrogen surplus / 10 Fauna on land / 11 Fauna in freshwater and marshes / 12 Surface water with good chemical quality / 13 Ground water abstraction / 14 Urban exposure to particulate matter (PM2,5) / 15 Cumulative CO2 emissions / 16 Hours worked / 17 Higher educated population / 18 Healthy life expectancy of women / 19 Healthy life expectancy of men / 20 Trust in other people / 21 Feelings of discrimination / 22 Trust in institutions

2.4Well-being ‘elsewhere’

This section gives an overview of the trend of well-being ‘elsewhere’ in the 2013–2020 period, the most recent year-on-year changes and the Netherlands’ position in the EU ranking in the most recent year for which international data are available. We first look at the structure of the ‘elsewhere’ dashboard.

The way in which the Netherlands shapes its well-being ‘here and now’ also has consequences for people in other countries. The well-being ‘elsewhere’ dashboard describes the effects that this pursuit of well-being has on the rest of the world. To this end, following the CES Recommendations (UNECE, 2014), the flows of income and resources between the Netherlands and other countries are identified and documented.

This dashboard devotes particular attention to the 47 ‘least developed countries’ (LDCs). This emphasis on the poorest countries is in line with the recommendations of the Brundtland Report (WCED, 1987), which inspired the system for measuring well-being used in the Monitor. This report argues that well-being in the world can only be maintained sustainably if there is more even distribution between Global North and Global South. This theme is also a fundamental aspect of the SDG agenda. The agenda also centres on the way in which the poorest countries could reach a higher level of well-being in 2030 and what the richer countries can do to support this process of increasing well-being.

In the CES Recommendations, sustainable development is referred to as a question of fair distribution. This is not only a matter of fair distribution of well-being between the current generation and future generations in the Netherlands, but also of fair distribution between the high-income and the poorer countries. In this respect it should be emphasised that the Monitor only charts the most important income and resource flows; it is for politics and society to determine what is desirable or fair. The Monitor provides the figures that enable that debate.

This approach, which takes ‘elsewhere’ into account, is generally not included in the description of well-being. Most countries limit themselves to comparing the way in which well-being ‘here and now’ develops and how the consumption of non-renewable resources in particular puts pressure on well-being in the future. It is understandable that such a perspective is lacking in most countries: to date few indicators have been available that allow the flow of income and resources between countries to be described fully and on a global scale.

The CES Recommendations also show this. The ‘elsewhere’ dimension can only be shown properly if, in addition to the income flows, we can also describe all the capital flows (natural, economic, human and social capital). Furthermore, it is essential to obtain a good understanding of the ecological footprint that the Netherlands leaves in the rest of the world.

It should be noted that the import figures for raw materials include re-exports. This means the figures also include particular goods that are immediately exported to other countries following minor processing in the Netherlands. Consequently, some researchers feel that the picture of the environmental burden that the Netherlands places on the rest of the world is too negative. Two comments can be made in this regard. First, it cannot be said that the Netherlands enjoys no economic benefit from re-exports, as the related storage and transhipment activities, particularly in the Port of Rotterdam and the transport sector, generate substantial profits. Second, CBS has conducted a sensitivity analysis to see whether the Netherlands, even after a provisional correction for re-exports, still occupies the low position in the EU rankings that has been reported for many years (Langenberg and Smits, 2015). Even after such a correction, the Netherlands is still shown to be a major (per capita) importer of non-renewable resources. It would be best if the figures for imports could be adjusted for re-exports, but this is still very difficult from a technical point of view.

This edition of the Monitor also emphasises income flows (‘trade and aid’ theme) and the use that the Netherlands makes of other countries’ natural capital (‘environment and resources’ theme).

2.4.1   Broad well-being 'elsewhere'

Trade and aid

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The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
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The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
€ 131
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
€ 165
2nd
0.6%
5th
1.6%
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
4th

Environment and resources

12.2
27th
56.6
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
2.2
25th
13.1
The long-term trend indicates a decline in broad well-being
2.4
23rd
2.1
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being
5.2
The long-term trend indicates a decline in broad well-being
26th
18.7
0.611
7.5
14.4
The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being

This dashboard shows, for each indicator successively, the most recent figure for the Netherlands, the medium-term trend in the 2013–2020 period, a chart of the EU ranking and the Netherlands’ position in the EU.

In the ‘trade and aid’ theme, we look at the way in which the Netherlands can make a positive contribution to the well-being of other countries. In this context, in line with the Brundtland Report, particular attention is paid to the income flows between the Netherlands and the LDCs.

Dutch imports from developing countries are assumed to have a positive influence on the well-being of these trading partners: this trade provides employment and income for producers and traders in those countries. This naturally depends on the products that are traded. Imports of non-renewable resources can be viewed more critically from an ecological point of view. This aspect of trade is described in the ‘environment and resources’ theme. Imports are also classified according to the parts of the world that they come from. This makes it possible to determine whether or not trade with the Global South has intensified. After all, the ways in which the western world (Global North) is connected economically with the developing countries (Global South) is an important subject in the Brundtland Report.

Other ways of positively influencing well-being in developing countries are through the remittances sent by migrants to their country of origin and through development aid. An increase in these financial flows is shown as green in the dashboard.

Some forms of trade can be viewed more critically from the point of view of well-being. This is particularly true of imports of raw materials. The ‘environment and resources’ theme looks at the degree to which the Netherlands puts pressure on the environment or the stocks of raw materials of other countries. As mentioned previously, trade is seen in principle as beneficial to well-being (see the ‘trade and aid’ dimension). However, if it causes the stock of natural capital to decline, trade potentially has an adverse effect on the development of well-being over the long term, just as in the ‘later’ dashboard. Furthermore, it is important to have an understanding of the ecological footprint that the Netherlands leaves in the rest of the world. It is possible in theory for the Netherlands to meet all kinds of sustainability standards but to move its polluting activities ‘elsewhere’ and, for example, to import products that have been manufactured in a very environmentally unfriendly fashion.

Why is it important to focus specifically on imports of natural resources from the LDCs? In many African countries in particular, this trade in natural resources leads to problems that can reduce well-being there. The proceeds of exports from Africa specifically are mainly spent on consumption and often benefit a small elite. High raw material prices result in labour and capital increasingly being invested in exploiting natural resources. This contributes to a one-sided economic structure. In the literature this is often referred to as the ‘resource curse’ (Sachs and Warner, 1995; Venables, 2016).

Furthermore, there is a strong correlation between on the one hand the extent to which countries are dependent on natural resources for their economic growth and on the other hand the degree of social inequality, corruption and the emergence of tensions in society. This ‘resource curse’ is by no means unavoidable: Botswana and Chile are examples of countries where the proceeds of exports of natural resources have benefited large sections of the population (Clark, 2011).

The most important trends in well-being ‘elsewhere’ in the 2013–2020 period are described below.

Summary overview

The ‘trade and aid’ theme shows a stable to positive development. The trend in expenditure on development cooperation is stable, whereas the trend in remittances is rising. The ‘environment and resources’ theme presents a mixed picture. Three indicators show a green trend, while two are red.

Trade and aid

In the case of the trade and aid theme there are four rising (green) medium-term trends. The following indicators are developing in the direction of more well-being:

  • Imports of goods from America: this concerns the value in euros (current prices) per capita of goods imported from countries in North, Central and South America. In the 2013–2020 period, these imports rose from 2,654 euros to 2,954 euros per capita. The medium-term trend changed from stable in the 2012–2019 period to green in the 2013–2020 period.
  • Imports of goods from Asia: per capita value in euros (current prices) of goods imported from Asian countries. In the 2013–2020 period these imports rose from 4,781 to 5,849 euros per capita.
  • Imports of goods from Oceania: value in euros (current prices) per capita of goods imported from Oceania. In the 2013–2020 period these imports rose from 80 to 131 euros per capita.
  • Remittances sent from the Netherlands by migrants to people in their country of origin. This amount is expressed as a percentage of gross national income and rose from 1.1 percent in 2013 to 1.6 percent in 2019. It is important to note that the percentage of remittances is subject to a number of measurement problems. The indicator refers to remittances of wages and salaries earned by non-residents, but these figures may also include cash flows from private investors. Among the countries with the highest percentage of remittances are Luxembourg and, to a lesser extent, Malta and Cyprus. Tax advantages may also have an impact. Furthermore, it is difficult to distinguish non-residents who live in a country for more than 12 months, while remittances through unofficial bodies are not measured. It is not clear to what extent these measurement problems influence the figures, because payment systems vary greatly from country to country.

The environment and resources

For this theme, two indicators are developing favourably from the perspective of well-being and two unfavourably:

  • Fossil fuel imports from LDCs: these trade figures were derived from the ‘material flow accounts’ and are expressed in kg per capita. Imports fell from 124.1 kg in 2013 to 56.6 kg in 2020, so relatively less demand was made on the natural capital of the LDCs. The trend is now green, where it was previously stable.
  • Imports of non-metal minerals from LDCs: these imports decreased from 7.0 kg per capita in 2013 to 2.1 kg in 2020. Again, the trend has turned from stable to green.
  • Imports of metals from LDCs increased from 3.8 kg per capita in 2013 to 13.1 kg in 2020.
  • Imports of biomass (total, from all countries): these imports are expressed as the amount of biomass and derived products, mainly of organic material, in tonnes per capita. It may come as a surprise that imports of biomass are seen in the Monitor as undesirable from the point of view of well-being. Surely it is much better for the Netherlands to import biomass rather than fossil fuels? That is certainly true, but by importing biomass the Netherlands is also laying claim to natural resources elsewhere in the world. Moreover, it is not always clear whether the biomass really has been produced sustainably. The amount of imported biomass rose from 4.8 tonnes per capita in 2013 to 5.2 tonnes in 2020.
  • GHG footprint: the GHG footprint, a measure of total greenhouse gases emitted as a result of Dutch consumption, amounted to 14.4 tonnes of COequivalents per capita in 2020. This is significantly less than in 2019 and represents a decrease of 8.2 percent. The trend is downward (green).

The Netherlands is still one of the few countries that pays explicit attention to the ‘elsewhere’ dimension when describing well-being and sustainability, notwithstanding the fact that key sustainability issues are of a global nature (e.g. the climate problem and biodiversity losses). The SDG agenda is of course a global initiative. SDG 17 in particular emphasises the importance of the formation and maintenance of partnerships to achieve the other 16 goals. International cooperation is essential to strengthen capacity and release resources to implement the sustainable development agenda. This will require coherent policy, a cooperative environment and new global partnerships.

SDG 17 concerns the effect that developments in the Netherlands have on other countries; the colours green, grey and red are assigned in the dashboard on this basis. Unfortunately, no properly measurable indicators are available for most of the sub-goals in SDG 17. A number of these sub-goals are aimed at developing policy instruments to support sustainable development in other countries. The Dutch policy covers most of SDG 17 and is to a large extent part of Dutch foreign policy, particularly the policy on external trade and development cooperation. For this policy, and the goals formulated here, it is not possible to devise indicators in the conventional sense. Instead, an indication is given of the extent to which such policy instruments do or do not exist. This means that SDG 17 cannot be described in the same way as the previous SDGs. It remains difficult to make SDG 17 more measurable. Statistical agencies in other countries are also grappling with this issue. CBS aims to provide additional indicators to allow a better description of this SDG.

Trend reversals

Seven indicators in the ‘elsewhere’ dashboard show a trend reversal, five of them in a positive direction.

In the trade and aid theme, the medium-term trend shows the value of ‘goods imports from Africa’ turning from red to grey: the declining trend over the 2012–2019 period stabilised for 2013–2020. For the value of goods imports from America, the trend has now improved from stable to rising (green). This also indicates an increase in well-being. The medium-term trend in the value of total imports per capita from the LDCs is now stable (grey), whereas it was previously rising (green). This represents a deterioration.

For the environment and resources theme, the volume of ‘imports of metals’ (from all over the world) showed an improvement, as the trend changed from red (in this case rising) to stable. The volume of imports of ‘fossil energy carriers from LDCs’ and ‘imports of non-metallic minerals from LDCs’ also developed favourably. Here, the medium-term trend has changed from stable over the 2012–2019 period to green (decreasing) over the 2013–2020 period.

In the case of one indicator for this theme, the trend reversal meant a deterioration from the perspective of well-being: the medium-term trend in the volume of ‘imports of non-metallic minerals’ (from all over the world) over the 2013–2020 period is stable, whereas it was previously decreasing and hence green.

Positions in the EU ranking

We describe below the level of well-being ‘elsewhere’ for the Netherlands compared to the other countries in the EU27.

With regard to the value of ‘total imports from LDCs’, ‘development aid’ and ‘remittances’ in the ‘trade and aid’ theme, the Netherlands is at the top of the EU ranking. By contrast, for the ‘environment and resources’ theme, the Netherlands is at the bottom of the list, partly because the Netherlands, with its world port activities, is a major importer of raw materials and auxiliary products.

A more specific look at the indicators within the various themes shows that the Netherlands is high in the European ranking for the following indicators:

Trade and aid theme:

  • Total imports from LDCs (SDG 17.11.1): 2nd out of 26 countries (2019)
  • Development aid (SDG 17.2.1): 5th out of 26 countries (2019)
  • Remittances (SDG 17.3.2): 4th out of 27 countries (2019)

As a major importer, the Netherlands has low scores in the EU rankings for some indicators:

Environment and resources theme:

  • Imports of fossil energy carriers: 27th out of 27 countries (2019)
  • Imports of metals: 25th out of 27 countries (2019)
  • Imports of non-metallic minerals: 23rd out of 27 countries (2019)
  • Biomass imports: 26th out of 27 countries (2019)

All information on well-being ‘elsewhere’ is summarised in Figure 2.4.2.

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 2013–2020). 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 to 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:
Green Green
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.
Grey Grey
No significant increase or decrease in the indicator. The Netherlands is in the middle of the EU ranking.
Red Red
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.
2.4.2   Trends in well-being: Elsewhere
Trendsinwell-beingElsewhere-4.3%Gross domesticproductPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-20205th out of 27PositiveNegativeClick for more information-8.3%Trade and aidTotal importsof goodsMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-2020NeutralNeutralClick for more information-9.7%Trade and aidImports of goodsfrom EuropeMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-2020NeutralNeutralClick for more information-11.1%Trade and aidImports of goodsfrom AfricaMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-2020NeutralNegativeClick for more information-5.1%Trade and aidImports of goodsfrom AmericaMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-2020PositiveNeutralClick for more information-5.0%Trade and aidImports of goodsfrom AsiaMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-2020PositiveNeutralClick for more information+0.6%Trade and aidImports of goodsfrom OceaniaMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-2020PositiveNeutralClick for more information-5.8%Trade and aidTotal importsfrom LDCsPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-20202nd out of 26NeutralNeutralClick for more information0.0%ptTrade and aidOfficial developmentassistancePosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-20195th out of 26NeutralNeutralClick for more information+0.2%ptTrade and aidRemittances Position in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-20194th out of 27PositiveNeutralClick for more information-8.2%Environment and resourcesFossil fuelimportsPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202027th out of 27NeutralNeutralClick for more information+20.3%Environment and resourcesFossil fuel importsfrom LDCsMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-2020PositiveNegativeClick for more information-5.5%Environment and resourcesImports ofmetalsPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202025th out of 27NeutralNeutralClick for more information-37.4%Environment and resourcesImports of metalsfrom LDCsMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-2020NegativePositiveClick for more information-3.7%Environment and resourcesImports ofnon-metallic mineralsPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202023rd out of 27NeutralNeutralClick for more information-10.6%Environment and resourcesImports of non-metallicminerals from LDCsMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-2020PositiveNeutralClick for more information+2.5%Environment and resourcesBiomassimportsPosition in EU in 2019Medium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-202026th out of 27NegativeNeutralClick for more information+9.5%Environment and resourcesBiomass importsfrom LDCsMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-2020NeutralNegativeClick for more information+0.9%Environment and resourcesLandfootprintMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2013-2017UnknownNeutralClick for more information-5.2%Environment and resourcesMaterialfootprintMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2018-2019NeutralNeutralClick for more information-8.2%Environment and resourcesGreenhouse gasfootprintMedium-term trend (2013-2020)Most recent y-o-y change 2019-2020PositiveNeutralClick for more information
Close this theme
08091007111213141615171918202101020304060501 Total imports of goods / 02 Imports of goods from Europe / 03 Imports of goods from Africa / 04 Imports of goods from America / 05 Imports of goods from Asia / 06 Imports of goods from Oceania / 07 Total imports from LDCs / 08 Official development assistance / 09 Remittances / 10 Fossil fuel imports / 11 Fossil fuel imports from LDCs / 12 Imports of metals / 13 Imports of metals from LDCs / 14 Imports of non-metallic minerals / 15 Imports of non-metallic minerals from LDCs / 16 Biomass imports / 17 Biomass imports from LDCs / 18 Land footprint / 19 Material footprint / 20 Greenhouse gas footprintEU rankingThe bars show the Netherlands’ ranking in the European Union for each indicator.Low rankingHigh rankingMiddle rankingKeyImprovement in well-beingNo changeDeterioration in well-beingMedium-term trend (8 years)Change (most recent year)KeyInsufficient data (quality)GDPper capitaTrade and aidEnvironment and resources

2.5Resilience

One of the central questions in this Monitor is the sustainability of well-being over the longer term. The ‘later’ dashboard looks mainly at whether the current pattern of well-being leaves sufficient resources (capital) for future generations. Well-being may also come under pressure in the longer term due to major external shocks that disrupt society. History offers various examples of how violent shocks can impede the development of well-being for a long time. The 2008 financial crisis is an example.

The coronavirus outbreak has made us more aware of the fragility of our way of life and of the longer-term sustainability of well-being. A shock of this magnitude affects all dimensions of well-being. It is therefore relevant to ask to what extent the Netherlands would be capable of absorbing a major shock. This is expressly not about the effects of the current shock, but about the extent to which the Netherlands is prepared for a subsequent shock.

The dashboard in this section represents an initial experimental measurement by CBS of the resilience of well-being.

What is resilience?

In the context of well-being, a shock is an irregular event with consequences for entire populations (OECD, 2014). Examples are wars, natural disasters, financial crises and pandemics. Such shocks occur in the relatively short term and are largely exogenous (externally caused), irregular and to some extent unpredictable. They therefore exclude medium- or long-term trends and transitions. Nor do they include phenomena such as flu outbreaks, cyclical swings in the economy or annual floods. These are fluctuations that occur regularly in society; they are, as it were, ingrained and the system and society have adapted to them.

Resilience is the ability of a society or system to reduce the probability of a shock, to absorb a shock when it occurs, to recover rapidly and possibly to adapt structurally to the new situation after the shock (Bruneau et al., 2003; Rose, 2007 and 2016). The definition therefore contains four successive, interrelated phases: preparation, absorption, recovery and adaptation. The degree of resilience is a result of these four phases and is determined by four characteristics:

  • Does the system have characteristics that increase resilience or are there vulnerabilities (preparation)?
  • To what extent is it able to cushion the consequences of a shock (absorption)?
  • Can it continue to function efficiently and then recover from a shock (recovery)?
  • And is it capable of making fundamental adjustments to cope with the consequences of a shock (adaptation)?

Themes

When resilience is operationalised within the conceptual framework of the Monitor, five interrelated themes emerge:

  • Livelihood of households: Do households have the buffers they need to support themselves in the event of a shock? Do they have savings, a job and a home? Are they well informed and do they have the knowledge to deal with a shock?
  • Size of vulnerable groups: How large are certain vulnerable groups that are the first to be affected in the event of a shock? Examples are households with low income and few assets, the unemployed and people in poor health.
    Livelihood of households and the size of vulnerable groups relate to well-being ‘here and now’. This concerns the extent to which people are able to provide for themselves and maintain their quality of life in the event of a shock, and the distribution of the effects of a shock. The emphasis here is on individuals and households and not on the social environment in which people support each other in all sorts of ways.
  • Robustness of biosphere, society and economy: How robust are the major systems of biosphere, society and economy and where do the vulnerabilities lie? This concerns the four capitals: natural capital (biosphere), social capital (society) and human and economic capital (economy).
    The robustness of the biosphere, society and the economy concerns well-being ‘later’. It relates to the question whether sufficient natural, social, human and economic capital is available and what the quality of each type of capital is. A shock can push a system toward critical limits.noot2 Beyond those limits, it can no longer function at the same level and the level of well-being it generates will decrease. The emphasis here is on the major systems: biosphere, society and economy.
  • Cross-border dependencies: How strong are the dependencies of the Netherlands on the rest of the world? Possible examples include imports of non-renewable resources such as oil and gas.
    Cross-border dependencies relate to well-being ‘elsewhere’. The question is to what extent the Netherlands is dependent on other countries for critical aspects. This is a vulnerability aspect.
  • Government power: How much power does the government have? Is the administration effective? Does the government have the financial capacity to take emergency measures?
    Government power refers to the effectiveness of the administration, government’s financial capacity and confidence in government and the rule of law. This aspect is part of the robustness of society (institutions are part of social capital), but it merits particular attention in view of the current experiences with the coronavirus pandemic. Government power is particularly important in the event of a shock affecting large sections of the population and threatening major systems.

Interpretation

Resilience is not an absolute concept. There are no specific (Dutch) critical limits or standards against which indicator values can be compared. For example, monoculture makes agriculture vulnerable, but how much monoculture is acceptable and how much is too much? With the ending of natural gas extraction, the Netherlands has become more dependent on imports of natural gas, but at what percentage of import dependency should we start to worry? These are normative issues on which CBS makes no pronouncements.

The question is whether ecological, social and economic systems are equivalent or not. The interests of the economy were paramount for a long time. As part of the ‘Beyond GDP’ approach – which seeks broader measures of prosperity, well-being and sustainability – ecology, society and the economy are viewed as interconnected systems (Hoekstra, 2019). According to current thinking on ‘planetary boundaries’ (Rockström et al., 2009) and sustainability, there is a hierarchy in which ecological systems form the basis for social systems, and the economy in turn depends on the functioning of ecological and social systems. If the foundations are not sound, the layers built upon them will collapse sooner or later. The importance of the biosphere as the foundation on which society and the economy are built can also be seen in Figure 2.0.1. in the introduction to this chapter.

The role of the Monitor is to present these issues together with factual information on developments in desirable or undesirable directions. In the case of vulnerabilities, this involves likely rather than actual consequences of a shock. The purpose of an indicator is to highlight the vulnerability in question. Figures on resilience will b