The economic crisis pushed up unemployment in the Netherlands to 4.8 percent in 2009. This is still very low compared with the towering levels in the 1930s. According to the new calculations of unemployment for the period 1921–2009, in 1935 - the lowest point of the depression - over 17 percent of the labour force were out of work. In 1983 and 1994, too, unemployment peaked at 10.7 and 8.5 percent respectively.
Relatively more women unemployed
Until the 1980s, economic recession mainly affected men. In 1935, for example, 21.0 percent of the male labour force were unemployed; for women this was only 7.6 percent, as fewer of them participated on the labour market. At the time it was quite usual for women to be dismissed when they got married or became pregnant. This practice was gradually abolished in the period 1957-1976.
Since then, unemployment has consistently been substantially higher among women than among men. One explanation for this is the relatively large number of women who leave the labour force temporarily to take care of their children. When they want to re-enter the labour market, they are often unemployed for a while.
Unemployment by sex, 1921–2009
Non-westerners hit hardest by recession
In the period 1981–2009, unemployment among people with a non-western foreign background was substantially higher than among native Dutch people and people with a western foreign background. People with a non-western foreign background are affected more by a downturn in the economy.
Once the economy starts to recover again, however, unemployment decreases by most for people with a foreign background. One of the explanations for this is that relatively more people in this group have flexible employment contracts. Between 1994 and 2001, for example, unemployment among people with a non-western foreign background fell by 17.6 percent points, to 8.5 percent and among people with a western foreign background by 5.4 percent points to 4,7 percent. For native Dutch people it fell by 4.3 percent points to 2,9 percent.
Unemployment by ethnic origin, 1981–2009
Doreen Ewalds and Bob Lodder