In 2010 the unions had 1.87 million members, 17 thousand fewer than in 2009. Union membership has remained fairly stable over the last 15 years. Because the active labour force increased substantially during this period, the degree or organisation decreased.
Membership lags behind the growth rate of the active labour force
The first complete overview of union members became available in 1910. That year, there were just 185 thousand members. Union membership increased faster than the active labour force until the seventies. By the mid seventies the degree or organisation was at its peak.
In the first half of the eighties membership among men fell drastically. This period was characterised by fast rising unemployment. At the start of the 21st century unemployment also rose fast but then total membership remained more or less stable.
Trade union members and the active labour force
Fourfold increase in female membership
In the period 1973-2010 the number of union members increased by more than 200 thousand. The number of male union members fell from 1.5 to 1.24 million. Then again increasing numbers of women joined. In 2010 one in three members is a woman whereas in 1973 only one in eleven was. This increase is related to the growing labour participation of women, which rose from 34 percent in 1973 to nearly 60 percent in 2010.
Trade union members by sex, 1973-2010
Aging in the unions
The number of union members under 25 is falling. In 1973 the unions had 282 thousand young members, who made up 17percent of the membership. In 2010 this dropped to nearly 4 percent, with just 71 thousand young union members. The decrease among young people is mainly because this section of the population is smaller and enters the labour market at a later age.
The number of union members of retirement age (AOW) is rising. Many more people over 65 remain union members after they finished working. In 1973 they had an 8 percent share, in 2010 their share had increased to 13.5 percent.
Trade union members by age
Dick ter Steege and Rob Kuijpers