The only part time economy in the world?

In the Netherlands, average working hours are only about 30 per week – the highest rate of part time work among rich nations. It also has the lowest proportion of involuntary part time employment, as a share of all part time workers. The Netherlands has been called ‘the only part time economy in the world’. How has this happened?

By the late 1990s, the Netherlands had developed a slightly different working pattern from the EU average. 55% of EU households without children had two earners, and this number, at 60%, was similar in the Netherlands. But just 20% of Dutch households had two full time workers, compared with 37% across the EU. Conversely 35% had one full- and one part-time worker (“one and a half households”) – this proportion was 17% for the whole EU. Households with children had roughly similar proportions – apart from a very markedly low number with 2 full time workers – only 4%, compared with 29% for the whole EU.

This situation marked a rapid period of change over the previous 20 or so years. This change has been attributed to a relatively late rise in female workforce participation. There was no Dutch tradition of married women working full time, as for example in France or Belgium. This suggestion is borne out by the late-90s figures gender breakdown. In the Dutch one-and-a-half households, a woman was the full time earner in only 1-2 per cent of cases. Dutch women remain more likely to reduce their working hours

The Netherlands has made an important policy choice, supporting its trend towards lower working hours. The Working hours Adjustment Act 2000 gives all Dutch workers the right to request to change either from full- to part-time or vice versa. The employer can only refuse if they can demonstrate significant business or organisational interests in the way. There is also a requirement for equal treatment of part- and full-time workers, in Dutch law and also in the European Part-Time Workers Directive of 1997.

In 1997, former Dutch prime minister Ruud Lubbers said, “It is true that the Dutch are not aiming to maximise gross national product per capita. Rather, we are seeking to attain a high quality of life, a just, participatory and sustainable society that is cohesive… While the Dutch economy is very efficient per working hour, the number of working hours per citizen are rather limited… We like it that way. Needless to say, there is more room for all those important aspects of our lives that are not part of our jobs, for which we are not paid and for which there is never enough time.” Hurray to that. And the Dutch economy has not collapsed, either.

Sources for this blog:

J Visser (2002), The first part time economy in the world: a model to be followed? Journal of European Social Policy 12:23

A Hayden (2013), Patterns and purpose of work-time reduction -a cross national comparison, in A Coote and J Franklin (eds), Time on our side – why we all need a shorter working week, New Economics Foundation

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