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Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Dutch kids and parents

On 11 May 2015, the Economist reported that Dutch kids are the happiest kids in the world. "The Netherlands consistently ranks as one of the best places in the world to live. Dutch kids are among the happiest in the world, according to Unicef." Also see: Huffington Post, BBC in 2007.

When I compare Dutch kids to other kids, something entirely else strikes me. Yesterday afternoon, it happened again: screaming kids - sitting in a car - demanding attention from their mother who was chatting with another school mum. I have never ever seen kids, in any other country, who are more annoying than Dutch kids. Probably as Dutch parents seldom correct their kids' behaviour. I suppose that such "freedom" may make kids "happy". At least for some time.

My recent May 2 blog was about a TV documentary on Dutch parenting. I was surprised to learn that young people (age < 25) now use 40% of the Dutch mental healthcare capacity. The reason for this is that parents have become overprotective towards their children. Parents and even school teachers try to avoid that children get disappointed. Furthermore, children receive a lot of pampering partly because of the parents' wealth and partly due to a feeling of guilt for not being around full-time.

That same Economist article also mentioned another typical Dutch feature: working parttime. According to the Economist "more than half of the Dutch working population works part time, a far greater share than in any other rich-world country. On average only a fifth of the working-age population in EU member states holds a part-time job (8.7% of men and 32.2% of women); in the Netherlands 26.8% of men and 76.6% of women work less than 36 hours a week."

The aforementioned observation cannot be seen separate from this Wall Street Journal article, titled: "U.S. Minimum-Wage Employees Must Work 50 Hours a Week to Escape Poverty, OECD Says". Minimum-wage employees in the U.S. need to work three times as many hours a week to lift their families out of poverty compared with counterparts in the UK. Australia, at six hours, and Ireland, at eight, had the shortest work-weeks needed to exceed the poverty threshold. The low figures reflect the substantial welfare benefits available to qualifying families.

The Netherlands is a tiny, rich country with a high productivity and a high part time rate. Quite some people perform a 40 hour job within a 32 hour working week. Dutch lunches are short and basic. Agendas are full. Meetings start and finish in time and are - usually - to the point. Communication can be very straightforward to foreigners but not to the Dutch as they expect and appreciate it. 

In my view, the complex combination of school hours, cost of child care, unavailable grand parents, and the egalitarian attitude of Dutch women towards men, explain the high part time rates amongst Dutch males and females, especially once there are kids. Another explanation is that working less hours - or not at all - is a public sign of family wealth, at least for some. 

The Netherlands is indeed a great place to live, work and raise kids. It's also a rather permissive society as adherence to the overabundant laws, regulations and rules is not our strongest point. Kids seem to understand that at a young age. Obviously, they will - and should - explore their boundaries. If there are none in their youth and a lot as adults then reality suddenly comes crashing down.