The Monitor of Well-being and the Sustainable Development Goals 2023 describes the well-being of the population living in the Netherlands today (‘here and now’), and the impact of their present level of well-being on future generations in the Netherlands (‘later’) and on people living in other countries (‘elsewhere’). It also examines how well-being is distributed across various population groups in the Netherlands, by describing well-being ‘here and now’ of each of these groups in terms of 13 indicators. The distribution of well-being reveals that favourable and unfavourable outcomes accumulate for certain individuals; the monitor analyses these accumulations, pinpointing the groups to which these individuals belong. Lastly, the monitor looks at how robust Dutch society is, and more in particular at whether nature, society and the economy are resilient enough to cope with a future shock like the recent pandemic.
The monitor starts out from the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to describe well-being themes. The SDGs can be viewed as internationally agreed goals for global well-being and its long-term sustainability. Here, we place each SDG in a Dutch context, describe what has been put in place to achieve the goal, what effects this has had and where the Netherlands now stands, and how people perceive these developments.
Data used in this edition of the monitor are not entirely comparable to those published in previous editions: some provisional outcomes have been replaced by definite ones, other sources have been used for some topics, and time series data always undergo regular revision. Consistent eight-year time series are recalculated for each annual edition of the monitor. All background information is available on Statistics Netherlands’ (CBS) website, including explanatory notes and tables with the data used in the monitor.
As a result of the outbreak of Covid-19 and the measures the Dutch government took to minimise the effects of the pandemic for the population and the health care sector, the last few years have been out of the ordinary. Between March 2020 and October 2022, over 47 thousand people in the Netherland died from diagnosed or suspected Covid-19. The measures introduced in this period –lockdowns, school closures and working from home – impacted on a range of aspects of Dutch life. Although this is reflected in many of the outcomes, this monitor concentrates on medium-term trends for a longer period: 2015-2022.
In many respects the Netherlands faces crucial challenges. It is having to take fundamental decisions in the areas of climate and energy, nitrogen and nature conservation, housebuilding, poverty reduction and social inclusion, innovation and competitiveness, and these decisions will in part define its future. They will not only affect well-being, but will have implications beyond that. Ambitious targets have been set in many of these areas, often within the agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations (UN) for the period 2015–2030. In the Netherlands, too, this agenda is one of the key policy frameworks.
CBS publishes the Monitor of Well-being and the SDGs every year, on Accountability Day, at the request of the Dutch government. The monitor not only presents the state of well-being and quality of life ‘here and now’ and how well-being is distributed across the population, but also looks at the effects of present well-being on future generations (‘later’) and on people in other countries (‘elsewhere’). CBS measures well-being in accordance with the recommendations and the framework adopted in the CES measurement system of the UNECE.
Well-being ‘here and now’
Well-being ‘here and now’ is described in eight themes: subjective well-being, material well-being, health, labour and leisure time, housing, society, safety and the environment.
As we can see in the well-being trends wheel, well-being ‘here and now’ has developed mainly positively in the trend period (2015-2022). The inner ring of the wheel represents the trend in 2015-2022. The outer ring shows the most recent year-on-year change.
Trends and positions
- Eight of the 28 indicators are moving towards increasing well-being (green segment in the inner ring). For five of these indicators the Netherlands is even among the leaders in the EU27: median disposable income, long-term unemployment, net labour participation, satisfaction with work (employees) and trust in people. See the bars below the figure.
- Three indicators in the wheel show a decrease in well-being (red trend): overweight population, contact with family, friends or neighbours and voluntary work. In spite of the negative trends, the Netherlands is among the leading countries in the EU.
- For the themes subjective well-being, material well-being, labour and leisure time, housing, safety and the environment, well-being has risen (green) or the trends remain neutral (grey).
- For the themes health and society, the picture is mixed: alongside neutral trends, some trends have turned red, pointing to a decline in well-being.
- The trend has reversed for three indicators. The previously neutral (grey) trend for overweight population has changed to red. Trust in institutions (police, House of Representatives and the courts) and urban exposure to fine particulate matter have switched from green to grey. These trend changes all point to deterioration from a well-being point of view.
Most recent changes
- Median income, the share of the population with a higher education level and the percentage doing voluntary work all grew relatively strongly compared with the previous year. The percentage of people who had been victim of a crime and the percentage experiencing environmental problems were both smaller than in the preceding year. All these changes are signs of increased well-being.
- On the other hand, healthy life expectancy was lower year-on-year for both men and women. Satisfaction with leisure time and trust in institutions were also significantly down on the previous year. These changes point to a decline in well-being.
The Dutch population makes collective choices ‘here and now’ that have consequences for future generations in the Netherlands (‘later’). After all, people need a wide range of resources (‘capital’) to maintain their quality of life. Well-being ‘later’ concerns resources available to future generations so that they will be able to achieve at least the same level of well-being as the present generation. In the long term, amounts of economic, natural, human and social capital must be maintained at at least the same level to achieve sustainability.
The wheel illustrating trends in well-being ‘later’ clearly shows that natural capital and trust in institutions are both in decline.
Trends and positions
- Trends of seven of the 22 indicators in the ‘later’ wheel indicate an increase in well-being: median household wealth, installed capacity for renewable electricity, managed natural assets within NNN, nitrogen surplus, hours worked, higher educated population and trust in other people.
- For five of the 22 indicators in the ‘later’ wheel, trends point towards a decline in well-being: average debt per household, fauna on land, fauna in freshwater and marshes, surface water with good chemical quality and cumulative CO2 emissions. By comparison: for well-being ‘here and now’ three trends were red, out of a total of 28 indicators.
- Declines are particularly evident in natural capital: four of the eleven trends are red.
- The indicators for human and social capital show either a favourable or a neutral trend.
- The picture is mixed for economic capital.
- Compared with other EU countries, the Netherlands ranks mostly in the middle group or among the stragglers. Only for knowledge capital stock, trust in other people and trust in institutions is it among the EU leaders. For phosphorus and nitrogen surpluses, cumulative CO2 emissions, average household debt and the share of population who feel they are part of a discriminated group, the Netherlands is at the bottom of the EU rankings. In terms of installed capacity for renewable energy, the Dutch were near the bottom of the rankings in 2019 but had climbed to the middle group by 2021.
- The ‘later’ wheel shows three trend reversals compared with the period 2014-2021. Nitrogen surplus improved: the neutral (grey) trend has turned downward (green). The decreasing surplus is connected with a lower nitrogen content of grass and smaller livestock numbers. Although these data are only available for half of EU countries, for both nitrogen and phosphorus surpluses the Netherlands was near the bottom of the rankings (in 2019). Trends for urban exposure to fine particulate matter and trust in institutions, which were both green, have both turned to neutral (grey). Available data on fine particulate matter are not very recent, however.
Most recent changes
- Installed capacity for renewable electricity has increased sharply compared with the previous year (20.1 percent). The share of higher educated in the population and the average number of hours worked per capita were also higher year-on-year. These changes are favourable for well-being.
- Healthy life expectancy for men and women was 2.2 years and 2.8 years respectively lower than in 2022, indicative of deteriorating well-being.
- Trust in institutions (police, courts and House of Representatives) fell by 5.6 percentage points from 2021 to 2022. People had less faith in the House of Representatives in particular (down by 11.9 percentage points). This, too, is unfavourable for well-being.
People make choices ‘here and now’ to maintain or improve their well-being. These choices affect not only future generations in the Netherlands (‘later’) but also people living in other countries (‘elsewhere’). The wheel showing well-being trends ‘elsewhere’ is based on income and resources flows between the Netherlands and other countries. Well-being ‘elsewhere’ is mainly rising .
In the context of the monitor, an increase in value is considered to lead to an increase well-being for trade partners. For the theme environment and resources, smaller imported volumes of fossil fuels, metals, non-metallic minerals and biomass are considered to lead to an increase in well-being, as local reserves of natural resources will be less depleted.
Trends and positions
- For ten of the twenty indicators in this wheel, trends are moving towards rising well-being: the total amount of remittances by non-residents to their country of origin accounts for a larger share of GDP, and the value of total goods imports – specifically from Europe, America, Asia and Oceania and the least developed countries (LDCs) – is rising. Volumes of fossil fuels and of non-metallic minerals and biomass imported from LDCs are decreasing.
- Trends of eight indicators are neutral. It was not possible to calculate a trend for the footprint.
- Some trends have reversed compared with the trend period in the previous monitor (2014-2021). For the volume of imported fossil fuels and biomass imported from LDCs the trend has become more favourable: it switched from neutral to downward (green). Reserves of natural resources are being depleted less. Imported volumes of fossil fuels from LDCs did deteriorate: here the trend switched from decreasing (green) to neutral. The trend in total volume of imported biomass has also become less favourable, changing from neutral to rising (red).
Most recent changes
The data reveal no notable year-on-year changes. Recent geopolitical tensions (the war in Ukraine) have led to shifting trade flows. The hefty price increases in 2022 also contributed to the increased value of imports. As no corrections have been applied for price changes of imported goods in indicators in the theme trade and aid, it is not possible to determine the underlying changes in trade volumes.
Distribution of well-being
Well-being ‘here and now’ is not distributed equally across the population. It differs especially between groups with different levels of education, groups with different countries of birth/origin, and to a lesser extent between age groups. There are hardly any differences between men and women.
The monitor approaches the distribution of well-being from two angles. On the one hand it describes the situation for each group in the population for each of 13 well-being indicators. On the other hand, it also looks at whether favourable or unfavourable outcomes accumulate for certain individuals, and if so: which groups these individuals belong to.
Origin/country of birth
People with lower and medium levels of education have lower levels of well-being than those with a degree in higher education. People born outside the Netherlands, or whose parents – one or both – were born outside the Netherlands have lower levels of well-being than people born in the Netherlands and whose parents were also born in the country.
Well-being of people aged 25 to 34 years is below average, while for 45- to 64-year-olds it is relatively high.
Generally speaking, the distribution of well-being has not changed much from 2019. However, in relative terms younger groups show a slightly lower level of well-being, just as those with medium education levels. On the other hand, 65- to 74-year-olds and people born in the Netherlands but of whom one or both parents were born outside Europe often scored more favourably.
Highest completed level of education
Origin/country of birth
Favourable outcomes accumulate more for people with higher than for people with lower education levels. Unfavourable outcomes are more likely to accumulate for people with lower education levels. Additional large differences in accumulation can be observed by country of birth/origin and age group.
Fewer people accumulated favourable or unfavourable outcomes in 2022 than in 2019, which means the middle group expanded. The share with accumulated favourable outcomes fell substantially among people younger than 35 years. The same is true for people born in the Netherlands with at least one parent born outside Europe.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also reflect trends in well-being in the Netherlands. Here, well-being themes are described using the SDGs as a starting point. Some SDGs have been divided into two or three parts, reflecting the different perspectives they comprise. The monitor measures Dutch progress on the SDGs in terms of 293 indicators. For each indicator in the 17 SDGs, we establish whether the trend is moving towards target, away from target, or is neutral. Where possible, we also present the position of the Netherlands compared with other EU countries.