Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Going Dutch
November 16, 2010 5:43 AM   Subscribe

Going Dutch Considerations of gender (in)equality in the Dutch workplace.

Though the Netherlands is consistently ranked in the top five countries for women, less than 10 percent of women here are employed full-time. And they like it this way. Incentives to nudge women into full-time work have consistently failed. Less than 4 percent of women wish they had more working hours or increased responsibility in the workplace, and most refuse extended hours even when the opportunity for advancement arises.
posted by modernnomad (43 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ah, but what of unmarried, self-supporting women? I'll bet they are the 10% who work full-time.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:58 AM on November 16, 2010


That seems like a pretty stupid article. If you have a country where full or part-time work is an option for pretty much anyone, both in terms of opportunities for part-time work and living expenses. and a country where anyone can easily go on government subsidies if they're not working - then it would be easy to say women are just less interested in working full time. But it seems like a lot of men would like that too. The article doesn't really specify what percentage of men that is.

But the only realistic way to simply spend less time at work in the U.S. is to be dependent on a man who makes the money. There are not a lot of part-time jobs that pay well at all.
posted by delmoi at 6:03 AM on November 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


Some good additional content here: "Female part-time work in the Netherlands". More charts!
posted by Perplexity at 6:11 AM on November 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


what's up next for slate? an article about how workers in a certain african country are lazy and shiftless, preferring to spend their time dancing and singing with their excellent sense of rythm?
posted by ennui.bz at 6:30 AM on November 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


This isn't the first article I've seen on this topic, and I haven't yet read one that clarifies that "part time" in the Netherlands can mean anything except 100% time. It's not unusual for people to have one afternoon per week off, or every other Friday off, etc. Maybe that practice is more common worldwide than I realize; but, as an American, I understood part time to mean 50% time (20 hours per week) until I moved to the Netherlands.

So it's not clear to me what full time and part time mean in the research being cited. Does full time mean "anyone who works [on average] 40 hours per week", and part time means "anyone who works an amount less than 40 hours per week"? Because that would put those who work 36 hours per week in the same category as those who work 20 hours per week, and that's a pretty big difference.

Anecdotally, I work in software, with about 65 men—almost all of whom are on a 95%, 90%, or 85% schedule—and about five women—one of whom is on a 50% schedule. I was much more surprised to see so few women in a tech company than I was to find out that most people have a regular day off.
posted by neushoorn at 6:34 AM on November 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


I would love to be able to work part-time instead of full-time. But even if I could find part-time work that paid enough for me to maintain my (rather low) standard of living it probably would not include health insurance. Guess what country I live in.

One issue I didn't see in this article and in the one Perplexity shared is whether there are enough full-time Dutch jobs for everyone who wants one. Are jobs going begging? Are immigrants pouring in to take them?
posted by mareli at 6:40 AM on November 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Because that would put those who work 36 hours per week in the same category as those who work 20 hours per week, and that's a pretty big difference.

I'm wondering about that, too. The article says that, on the one hand, less than 10% of women work full time, and on the other hand, 25% don't make enough to financially support themselves. And that sounds weird to me - most women work part time but still make enough to support themselves. So what does "part time" mean?
posted by rtha at 6:41 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


So what does "part time" mean?

According to the report, over half of working women with kids are working 16-25 hours, and the rest are evenly distributed between 6 hours and full time.

For women without kids, over half work more than 30 hours and the rest are working between 16 and 30 hours.

For those in professional jobs, even a 20 hour week could give a perfectly survivable wage.
posted by emilyw at 7:03 AM on November 16, 2010


For those in professional jobs, even a 20 hour week could give a perfectly survivable wage.

If only this were true elsewhere in the world, too. (Well, and the option to work a professional job part time. That would be really nice, too.)
posted by stoneweaver at 7:08 AM on November 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


In the UK there's a legal obligation for employers, professional or otherwise, to "consider" requests for part time working; many many women go back to work part time when their kids are quite young, and there's an increasing trend of fathers going part time after the birth too (well, 4% of them according to this study). Usually Mum works two or three days a week and Dad might work four days.

I know one Dad who went to 4.5 days but worked the half day in his evenings so he could look after the kids for a full day while Mum was at work.
posted by emilyw at 7:19 AM on November 16, 2010


Usually Mum works two or three days a week and Dad might work four days.
That's an arrangement that I see in NL a lot as well. You'll be planning a meeting and someone will say 'no I can't on Friday, that's my papa-day'.
Actually it can be pretty hard to plan a meeting unless a team synchronises the days that people take care of their kids.
I've known quite a few guys as well who didn't necessarily have kids or a partner but just like the 4-3 work-rest ratio better than the conventional 5-2 ratio and are willing to sacrifice the money.
So quite a few people are lackadaisical, not just women.
posted by joost de vries at 7:29 AM on November 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


Very much in favour of working to live rather than living to work. 5/2 even with four or five weeks off is still a hell of a lot of your life.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:47 AM on November 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Another observation: while Dutch women have a great education on average, they are really under represented in higher management. Male chauvinist pig culture? Maybe. Journalist's Elma Drayer's book 'Spoiled Princesses' (google translation link) states this is the result of the 'pamper culture' and a lack of ambition as a result, while they use their children as an excuse to under achieve. The salaries are relatively high and the women want it all: education, motherhood, a great social life and thus: part-time work. Haven't read the book yet, but it certainly has been the topic during many smug middle class dinner parties recently. (I know these things, being smug middle class myself). It seems to be up for translation in English, so maybe next year, you can read about this view yourselves.
posted by ouke at 7:51 AM on November 16, 2010


as an American, I understood part time to mean 50% time (20 hours per week) until I moved to the Netherlands.

I am also American and have never understood part time to mean anything more specific than fewer than 40 hours per week.
posted by enn at 8:00 AM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Anyway, I love these articles that make it sound like Americans work ridiculous hours/take no vacations/whatever because we're all just so darned ambitious and driven and career-minded. They seem to even entertain the idea that maybe we'd rather work less too if it weren't for crappy US wages in many areas and even crappier labor laws which make it necessary to work at least full-time, if not more, to get and keep a job that pays a living wage.
posted by enn at 8:04 AM on November 16, 2010 [15 favorites]


The salaries are relatively high and the women want it all: education, motherhood, a great social life and thus: part-time work.

Good for them. That's a pretty ambitious goal in and of itself.

The idea that ambition is an unambiguous moral good (and that ambition = how much money you can make and how many people you get to boss around) is really unhealthy.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:06 AM on November 16, 2010 [14 favorites]


enn, don't forget health insurance so that you don't die.

I'm sure that my partner and I would both be happier working part-time, and we might even be able to pull it off if we didn't need his health insurance.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:07 AM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


er, they never seem to entertain the idea
posted by enn at 8:08 AM on November 16, 2010


So what does "part time" mean?

There's a lot more detail in Perplexity's link. Part-time is less than 30 hours/week. Figure 4 also talks about your question.

The female participation seems to be split between those who have kids, who peak at 16-20 hr/wk, and those who are "without children", which presumably means with no dependants in the house. The no-children distribution is interesting; it's bimodal, with beats at 16-20 hr/wk and at 35+. So it appears that for dutch women if they have kids, they overwhelmingly work about half a full-time work week, while even if they don't, a sigificant majority make the same choice.
posted by bonehead at 8:11 AM on November 16, 2010


The salaries are relatively high and the women want it all: education, motherhood, a great social life and thus: part-time work.

I'm an American man and I want it all! Wasn't that supposed to be "The Future"; less work, more leisure time and a better standard of living?
posted by MikeMc at 8:11 AM on November 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


I would chalk it up to the fact that in the Netherlands, one income is sufficient to support more than one person. Those socialist fucks. It's a good thing everyone I know and love lives in America, otherwise I might be forced to take refuge in that hellish land of living wages, rich history, and legal weed.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:18 AM on November 16, 2010 [10 favorites]


I understood part time to mean 50% time (20 hours per week) until I moved to the Netherlands.

I work in the Netherlands (though don't live there). The only people in my office who work full time are the expats.

It is quite wonderful for those that can do it, but it does make for a very different work culture - good and sometimes not so good for those of us who are working full time in the same environment.
posted by wingless_angel at 8:24 AM on November 16, 2010


I wonder if this is why the Dutch don't seem to be very creatively dynamic, at least on a global level. Comfy is fine, but what does a comfortable life offer someone who's got a raging urge (or ambition) to create--clothing design, film, music, building a business, etc.?
posted by Ideefixe at 8:33 AM on November 16, 2010


Cockaigne exists and can be found in NL.
posted by joost de vries at 8:38 AM on November 16, 2010


I wonder if this is why the Dutch don't seem to be very creatively dynamic, at least on a global level. Comfy is fine, but what does a comfortable life offer someone who's got a raging urge (or ambition) to create--clothing design, film, music, building a business, etc.?

If you don't have at least a comfortable life, how will you raise the capital for that business, acquire the education and experience to plan it out, have time to plan and create your designs/film/music, etc.?
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 8:46 AM on November 16, 2010


I'm a single woman in the US and I would take a paycut to work a 4-and-3 schedule or a 9-month year (I work in academia) in a hot second. And I could almost certainly get the same amount of work done! It would be win-win for me and my employer, but it's not an option. Sigh.

I was talking to a friend a week or two ago about how I would not work at all if that were an option. She didn't believe me, but I am pretty seriously lacking in ambition.

What I'm saying is, those Dutch women are onto something good.
posted by mskyle at 9:04 AM on November 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


having unversal health care really kind of takes off the table the "need" to work just for the insurance. i know a lot of women who only work just to pick up the load of the health insurance and medical expenses their domestic partners cant cover.
posted by liza at 9:06 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


If conditions seem so much better there or elsewhere than those you have here, then move. Yes there are differences in many things from country to country, and here we have had years of women fighting to get to where they now are, so now is the time to say: enough. This is not what we want. Big mistake. Not sure what the point of all this is.
posted by Postroad at 9:21 AM on November 16, 2010


If conditions seem so much better there or elsewhere than those you have here, then move.

That's an ignorant thing to say. It's not like they have open immigration in any of the Scandinavian countries. I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd emigrate tomorrow if I had the slightest chance of getting in.
posted by enn at 9:27 AM on November 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Not sure what the point of all this is.

It's an interesting look at a culture that has a different take on gender equality; a reminder that unrelenting stress on economic performance is not the only way to organize society.


If conditions seem so much better there or elsewhere than those you have here, then move.


No, in a democratic society people stay and change things if conditions aren't good enough (maybe drawing on other countries for inspiration, hint hint).
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 9:40 AM on November 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


Or, you know, they get so tired of putting bandages on their bleeding heads from smashing though so many paper screens of smiley faces that say "democracy" on them but are actually brick walls erected by the klepto-plutocracy they finally just say, fuck it, I want to have a goddamn life and raise a goddamn family in a goddamn sane environment.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:50 AM on November 16, 2010 [14 favorites]


Right, that too
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 9:52 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


This article makes me reflect explicitly on the values that I, as an American woman, often attribute to "work" in a sort of half-conscious way. Work as something definitive of the larger self. Work as a source of pride, a way of self-definition.

My view of work is pretty privileged, of course. I'm sure it suggests to the reader that (for instance) I'm not a single mom desperately juggling three minimum wage jobs to make sure my kids get fed. I'm pretty damned lucky to have work that speaks to interests I'd cultivate even if I'd been born with a trust fund (or government-provided health insurance). If I'd been born Dutch, I think it's likely I'd be working -- or trying to work -- in exactly the fields I work right now.

On the other hand, it means my idea of work is pretty irrelevant to the larger debate about the virtues of "work" more generally. For instance, consider 1880s London, which I've been doing a bit of reading about, lately. Ladies didn't work but women certainly id. Factory girls certainly had the "right" to work and the willingness to do so. They worked to earn enough money to feed themselves and maybe put a non-leaking roof over their heads. Or to contribute to a family income that, without their small contribution, wouldn't have stretched far enough to realize these same goals. This isn't work as a good or a right, it's work as an unfortunate necessity, in very difficult and often dangerous conditions.

All this to say, I think "the right to work" is a pretty deceptive term. Women *always* worked. But these last hundred years have opened up new ideas of what work should be. Ideally, in the USA at least, work should be an expression of the individual, a steadily growing source of pride and accomplishment. Now women are recognized to be thinking creatures who might just be able to do the sort of jobs that require intellect and valuable skills.

Thus, for those lucky enough to have jobs that challenge those talents and faculties considered to be valuable *by society,* the idea of not working, or not wanting to work, can seem very unnerving and somehow dangerously retro.

For minimum wage workers, not so much. "Work" itself isn't somehow inherently good. More power to Dutchwomen who can afford to develop their interests without being chained to a paycheck for it.
posted by artemisia at 10:14 AM on November 16, 2010 [9 favorites]


Despite any formal gender equality guaranteed by law, a woman's labor is still worth less than a man's labor in most countries -- either because of direct discrimination, or because women are socialized to take lower paying careers. Hence, the decision to opt out will cost her less than a man's decision to opt out, and may be rational if she doesn't have to worry about basic survival (health insurance, etc.), and the cost of her lost wages is equal to her preference to be with her children or garden or whatever.

So I'm pretty suspicious of any analysis of gender inequality that concludes that women just don't "want" to be equal in the workplace, without examining any historical factors or existing inequality in the workplace. Women may articulate their decision to opt out as an individual choice, but the fact is that this choice takes place against a backdrop of historical inequality that has lead up to the woman's individual choice and made it rational.
posted by yarly at 10:22 AM on November 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


Yarly, how would you suss out whether the choice is truly voluntary then?

A little further down in the article there's this interesting nugget:

Dutch women's refusal to seek longer hours has long bewildered economists. In the spring, the United Nations, suspicious that there was something keeping women from full-time jobs, launched an inquiry to see whether the Netherlands was in compliance with the women's rights treaty. A comprehensive 2009 study by Alison L. Booth & Jan C. Van Ours looked at the amount of time women in the Netherlands spend at work compared with women in other European countries. The authors assumed that part-time work was less desirable but ultimately confirmed that Dutch women don't want to spend more time at work. The NIS News Bulletin interpreted the results of the study as: "Attempts to get more women working full-time are doomed to failure because nobody has a desire for this. Both the women themselves and their partners and employers are satisfied with the Dutch part-time culture for women."


Here is the abstract page for that study if anybody can download and read it for us.

This website suggests the gender pay gap in the Netherlands is between 20-25%. The gap in the US is higher (around 30% IIRC) and yet far more US-ian women work full time than Dutch women. I am not sure if any of this cuts in favor of or against your argument, but it's interesting stuff.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 10:43 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yarly, how would you suss out whether the choice is truly voluntary then?

I'm no statistician, but I guess I would try to control for the gender gap. Compare a group of men and women making the same salaries in an industry where men and women have the same promotional potential and same representation in upper management. Then see if men or women chose part-time work at the same rates. Oh, such an industry doesn't exist, you say? Hmmm.
posted by yarly at 11:01 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


If conditions seem so much better there or elsewhere than those you have here, then move.

USA! USA! USA!

Or, alternatively, it's just possible that no single society has a monopoly on the best way to do things, and by considering approaches to public policy choices taken around the world societies can learn and synthesize and maybe even improve based on the experience of others. While I am neither Dutch nor American, I can see value in elements of both of those societies that I think my own (or at least currently adopted) country might do well to emulate. When I suggest that my own society can improve in some ways, I don't expect to be told by fellow residents to "love it or leave it." Fuck that noise.
posted by modernnomad at 11:05 AM on November 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


If conditions seem so much better there or elsewhere than those you have here, then move.

Seriously -- is that the best rejoinder you can come up with?
posted by blucevalo at 1:58 PM on November 16, 2010


Why is it so hard to accept that when people genuinely have the choice, many will happily choose a more equal balance between work and other elements of their lives? Put another way, if we were designing a utopian society, would it really involve working all hours and be constantly struggling with fitting everything else in?

We Europeans (huge generalisation, obviously) have always had a different take on work-life balance to the States, and this is just another example. Overall, Europeans would rather work a little less, and enjoy life and spend time doing other things a little more; something I'm very comfortable with. And as to bewildering economists - well, most things about the way people actually are seem to bewilder economists. I'm with reality.
posted by poetical at 2:16 PM on November 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


Who wouldn't work part time if they could afford it? Men or women.

I live in a country (UK) where even covering the rent in a major city requires a full time wage way above the national average. It's not a 'choice', it's a fucking necessity.
posted by Summer at 4:20 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now women are recognized to be thinking creatures who might just be able to do the sort of jobs that require intellect and valuable skills.

My objection to this is that the types of jobs I've been able to get that are full-time, white collar, benefited office jobs have required neither. It was certainly work that could have been done in half the time asked of me to be present.

You're lucky, in a way, to have work that can define you (I have work that defines me, too; it's just no the type that I can do in an office). But I don't think all women who don't get that sort of fulfillment out of work--and yet still aren't living close to poverty--are doing stuff that's dangerously retro. Sometimes one's best professional options still sort of suck, compared to challenging oneself at home.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:42 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


My previous job was at a company where 80%ers were extremely common. Most of them didn't come in on Fridays. Yes, they took a pay cut, but at 80% they kept their benefits. I'd say women took advantage of this a lot more than men (I'd say half the women I knew with school-age kids were 80% or 60%ers), but I also knew guys who went 80% because they had a startup idea they wanted to work on, or a volunteer situation that was really important to them. I assumed this was normal in software (this was my first job out of college) but I guess it isn't, since where I work now I don't know anyone who doesn't work 40+ hours a week.

I'll probably still try to negotiate 80% once I have kids. Wish me luck.
posted by little light-giver at 9:32 PM on November 16, 2010


OMG! 90% of NL women DON'T want to work 40+ hours a week? That's so sexist! That's so demeaning! That's so... like 99% of the people I know!
posted by IAmBroom at 7:58 AM on November 17, 2010


« Older Well whadda ya know, the largest music retailer in...   |   The Geometry of the Snail Ball... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments