Labour and income


Employment levels still lower than before the credit crisis

In 2017, net employment – the number of people aged 15 to 74 years who are in employment – increased to 66.7 percent. Employment is still a little lower than before the credit crisis began: in 2008, the figure was 67.9 percent. Labour market participation fell after 2008, only picking up again in 2015. Net employment is an important economic and social metric. It is important to have high employment levels, not least to benefit household incomes and maintain the stability of government finances. On average, people in paid work are also happier than unemployed people. The number of hours worked is not factored into employment figures; everyone who does one hour or more of paid work per week is considered to be employed.

A variety of factors influence the development of the net employment figures among the population aged 15 to 74 years. There is a rising trend in the intention to work among women and over-55s, which is grounded in emancipation and government policy aimed at increasing employment. However, the economic reality can sometimes throw a spanner in the works. More people may want to work, but if not enough jobs are available the only metric that will rise is unemployment. Cyclical fluctuations cause discrepancies between the labour market participation of different demographic groups.

Photo description: A man and a woman operating a machine.

Women’s employment level approaching that of men

Labour market participation is rising among both men and women, but the increase is more marked for women. The previous shortfall in women’s employment compared to men’s is gradually shrinking. In 2008, men’s net employment was still 13.4 percentage points higher than that of women; by 2017, that difference had fallen below ten percentage points. In recent years, the difference has been reduced in all age groups. Among 15 to 24-year-olds, women’s net employment is now in fact a little higher than that of men, as employment among young women grew much faster than employment among young men after 2014.

Employment in 2017 was lower than in 2008 in most age groups. The only groups to enjoy greater labour market participation than ten years ago were the over-55s and women aged 45 and older. Employment among people aged 55 to 64 years has been rising for some time, even continuing to increase during the credit crisis.

Relatively sharp fall in employment among people with Surinamese and Antillean backgrounds

The economic crisis that followed on the heels of the credit crisis was accompanied by significant changes in employment among all large groups with an immigrant background in the Netherlands. All these groups had lower levels of participation in the labour market in 2017 than in 2008. The difference in employment between people with a non-Western immigrant background and people with a Dutch background increased during the crisis. Before the crisis, this difference was actually decreasing, and that has again been the case in recent years.

In particular, labour market participation among people with a Surinamese or Antillean immigrant background has fallen significantly since 2008. Employment levels among people with a Turkish and Moroccan immigrant background are now almost back to where they were in 2008. The difference between these groups and people with a Dutch background is also practically the same as in that year. Employment among people with a Moroccan immigrant background is relatively low (less than 55 percent), but it is noticeably higher than it was at the turn of the millennium.

Smaller reduction in employment among highly-educated people

Labour market participation is not only related to the economic situation; it also has to do with a person’s age and level of education. The net employment level of people with a lower level of education is roughly 50 percent; this figure is about 70 percent for people with a medium level of education and around 80 percent for highly-educated people. Employment in all three groups was lower in 2017 than in 2008. However, the development of labour market participation during fluctuations in the economic situation is different for those with a medium or low level of education compared with highly-educated people. Employment among people with both a low and a medium level of education has decreased in recent years, to five percent below 2008 levels. Among highly-educated people, employment levels fell by less than 1.5 percent.

When we compare men and women in the same education bracket, it is clear that there is greater net employment among highly-educated people, but also that there is a bigger difference in employment between men and women in groups with medium and low levels of education. The difference between low-skilled men and women was almost 20 percentage points in 2017. Highly-educated men and women hardly differ in their labour market participation, although employment among highly-educated women aged over 45 years is lower than that of highly-educated men in that age group.

Significant fall in employment among low-skilled people aged between 25 and 44 years

The crisis has had a particularly heavy impact on 25 to 44-year-olds with a low level of education. For both men and women, the net employment level among low-skilled people has fallen by more than ten percentage points since 2008. The reduction was strongest among men, but this group’s labour market participation has been recovering in recent years. However, employment among low-skilled women aged between 25 and 44 years continues to fall. Employment levels are also still much lower among 15 to 24-year-old highly-educated men and medium-skilled men aged between 25 and 44 years, compared with 2008.

The share of highly-educated people aged between 15 and 74 years continues to increase, especially among women. In the under-45 age bracket, there are now more highly-educated women than men.

Labour market participation also increases in line with a person’s level of education among people with a non-Dutch background, and the differences between people with an immigrant background and people with a Dutch background are smallest among people with a high level of education. Among highly-educated people of Surinamese and Antillean heritage, employment levels are comparable to those of people with a Dutch background. Differences in labour market participation between people with a high education level are small in any case.

The percentage of highly-educated people among the group of people with a non-Western immigrant background is lower than among people with a Dutch or Western background. This proportion is growing, however, as it is in the other two groups.

Employment in the Netherlands is relatively high

In general, it can be asserted that there was a significant reduction in employment during the economic crisis. However, labour market participation in the Netherlands remained high in comparison with other countries: in the European Union, only Denmark, Estonia and Sweden have higher net employment levels.

Women’s employment has increased steadily over a long period. Although this increase slowed during the crisis, that did not impede the trend of women catching up with men in terms of labour market participation. This cannot be said for various groups with a non-Western immigrant background. The fall in employment levels among, for example, people with a Surinamese or Antillean immigrant background was more significant than among people with a Dutch background. In addition, labour market participation among people with low or medium levels of education fell more sharply in the period 2008–2017 than did participation among highly-educated people. The extent to which the lower education level explains the significant decline in employment among people with a non-Western immigrant background has not been investigated.

In 2017, the size of the population aged 15 to 74 years stood at 12.8 million. This included 8.6 million in the active labour force. There were 438 thousand unemployed who were immediately available and had been seeking work recently. Of the group not included in the labour force, 151 thousand had been seeking work but were not immediately available. Another 272 thousand were available but had not been seeking work. 3.4 million people had not looked for work and were not available. They included 3.2 million who were unwilling or unable to work and 205 thousand who were willing to work.


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Explanation of symbols

empty cell Not applicable
. Data not available
* Provisional figure
** Revised provisional figure (but not definite)
2016-2017 2016 to 2017 inclusive
2016/2017 Average for 2016 to 2017 inclusive
2016/’17 Crop year, financial year, school year, etc., beginning in 2016 and ending in 2017
2014/’15-2016/’17 Crop year, financial year, etc., 2014/’15 to 2016/’17 inclusive

Due to rounding, some totals may not correspond to the sum of the separate figures.

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