Trade union membership rates continue to decline

24/09/2009 15:00

In 2008, one in five employees working in paid employment for at least twelve hours a week were members of a trade union. In recent years, trade union membership rates have fallen considerably. Men and older employees are overrepresented.

Trade union membership rate reduced by a quarter since 1995

Over the years, the proportion of employees who have joined a trade union, the so-called trade union membership rate, has dropped substantially. In the period 1950-1980, the rate was more than 35 percent, but subsequently began to decline. After 1995, the rate dropped from 28 to 21 percent in 2008.

Trade union membership rate of employees aged 15 to 65

Trade union membership rate of employees aged 15 to 65

Number of employees up, number of trade union members down

Trade union membership rates have fallen more rapidly since 1999 than in the period 1995-1999. This is due to a decrease in membership since 1999 and a simultaneous increase in employees.

In the period 1995-1999, the number of trade union members as well as the number of employees increased, but the membership rate dropped, because the number of new members grew by 8 percent and the number of employees grew by 13 percent.

More female members

The number of female members has risen by 89 thousand since 1995, due to the fact that more women participate on the labour market. Still, the female membership rate declined from 20 percent in 1995 to 17 percent in 2008, although the decline among men was much more substantial from 34 to 25 percent.

Trade union members by gender

Trade union members by gender

Trade union membership low among young people

Relatively few young people are members of a trade union. Last year, the rate among 15 to 25-year-olds was just under 8 percent. With more than 31 percent, the rate among over-45s was nearly four times as high as among young people.

Trade union membership rate by age

Trade union membership rate by age

Membership ageing trend

By the end of March 2009, there were nearly 1.9 million trade union members; 244 thousand trade union members were older than 65, an increase by 62 thousand relative to 1999.

The number of trade union members aged 45 and older has grown by more than 21 percent since 1999. The growth is partly caused by the population ageing process. The number of young trade union members has dropped by 44 thousand to more than 73 thousand over the period 1999-2009. The ageing process among trade union members will thus continue.

Jo van Cruchten and Rob Kuijpers