The Dutch Fertility Paradox: How the Netherlands Has Managed to Sustain Near-Replacement Fertility
Fertility in the Netherlands has never dipped to the extremely low levels observed in some other European countries. The Netherlands has always maintained a total fertility rate (TFR, average number of children per woman) above 1.7. In 2009, the TFR was 1.88. The absence of direct family policies and the fact that the Netherlands is a highly secular society both make the country’s relatively high fertility, in a European context, appear as a paradox. The Dutch government provides substantial welfare benefits, but, given concerns about high population density, no specific policies have been implemented to raise fertility. Dutch society is characterized by a strong value preference for fathers to be the primary breadwinners and mothers to care for children at home. As a result, the Netherlands stands out as having the world’s highest fraction of women in the labor force who are part-time workers. Women tend to work in occupations that allow part-time work and higher work-family reconciliation, resulting in what has been termed unequal work for unequal pay. The state has had a paternalistic role—supporting mothers to work part time and providing child allowances and, until recently, free higherlevel education and generous benefits. The Netherlands shows that religion is not necessarily a prerequisite for fertility and that work-life reconciliation and individual control of fertility can sustain moderate fertility levels. The recent financial crisis, however, has called the sustainability of this system into question and has signaled the end of many generous state policies, combined with increased calls for women to become less reliant on their husbands and more economically independent.