Satisfaction high in Caribbean NL in spite of low material well-being

© CBS / Alrik Swagerman
Although material well-being levels are relatively low, most inhabitants of Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba are satisfied with life. Disposable income is lower than in the European part of the Netherlands, and many people find it difficult to make ends meet. Income inequality is also high on the islands. These are among the results presented in CBS’ second edition of the Monitor of Well-being and the Sustainable Development Goals 2023 for the Caribbean Netherlands.
Well-being refers to the quality of life here and now and the extent to which it is or is not achieved at the expense of the well-being of future generations and/or people elsewhere in the world. The monitor for the Caribbean Netherlands is still under development, and this year also includes the well-being dimension ‘here and now’ and nine of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The monitor focuses on the period 2015-2022.

Some 90 percent of islanders satisfied with life

Life satisfaction was high on all three islands in 2021. Inhabitants of St Eustatius were particularly satisfied with their lives (93.1 percent), but on Saba (88.4 percent) and Bonaire (87.5 percent), too, life satisfaction levels were higher than in the European part of the Netherlands, where 83.6 percent of people gave their lives a mark of 7 out of 10 or higher. Moreover, satisfaction with life increased on Sint Eustatius.

Life satisfaction 1)
PNT2017 (%)2017, margin (%)2021 (%)2021, margin (%)
Bonaire88.786.7 - 90.787.585.1 - 89.9
St Eustatius 85.281.6 - 88.893.190.8 - 95.4
Saba 90.186.4 - 93.888.484.6 - 92.2
European Netherlands85.484.5 - 86.383.682.6 - 84.6
1) With a 95% confidence interval

Low material well-being

Standardised disposable household income trended upwards on Saba, while medium-term trends remained stable on the other two islands. Households on Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba had 17.9 thousand, 18.2 thousand and 21.2 thousand US dollars respectively to spend in 2021. This is the equivalent of 50 to 60 percent of disposable income in the European part of the Netherlands. The share of people satisfied with their financial situation varied from 62 to 76 percent on the three islands.

Material well-being can also be expressed in terms of how many people have difficulty making ends meet. On Saba this percentage has fallen since 2017, to 22.6 percent in 2021, on St Eustatius (32 percent) and Bonaire (19.7 percent) it remained stable in this period.

Satisfaction with financial situation 1)
PNT2017 (%)2017, margin (%)2021 (%)2021, margin (%)
Bonaire69.466.5 - 72.375.272.3 - 78.1
St Eustatius 62.057.1 - 66.969.565.2 - 73.8
Saba 59.853.7 - 65.962.456.7 - 68.1
1) With a 95% confidence interval

Income inequality remains substantial

Income inequality is relatively large in the Caribbean Netherlands. In 2021 the twenty percent of households with the highest incomes on the three islands had between 7 and 11 times as much income as the twenty percent of households with the lowest incomes (the 80/20 ratio). The highest incomes in the European Netherlands are 4.5 time as high as those in the lowest group. Income inequality hardly changed on the islands between 2015 and 2021.

Another way to measure income inequality is by calculating the Gini coefficient. This coefficient has a value of between 0 and 1, where 0 means all incomes are equally distributed. The Gini coefficient values for Bonaire (0.39), St Eustatius (0.41) and Saba (0.36) in 2021 were higher than that for the European part of the Netherlands (0.29).

Income inequality (80/20 ratio), 2021¹⁾
St Eustatius11.3
European Netherlands4.5
¹⁾ Ratio of the total income of the highest quintile group (80) to the total income of the lowest quintile group (20). In a perfectly equal income distribution, where every household has the same income, the ratio 80/20 equals 1.

High labour participation

Although material well-being is low on the islands, labour participation is relatively high. Net participation rates were even higher on Bonaire and St Eustatius in 2022 than in the European part of the Netherlands, which itself had the highest rate in the EU. The differences in participation rates between men and women are smaller in the Caribbean Netherlands. Saba has the lowest labour participation rate of the three islands.

Labour force participation
CategorieTotal (%)Male (%)Female (%)
St Eustatius72.973.072.7
European Netherlands72.276.368.1

Relatively low education level

A person’s level of education is important for their future labour market career and income level. Relatively many people in the Caribbean Netherlands have a low level of education. This is especially true for Bonaire and St Eustatius, where 50.5 and 61.7 percent respectively of the population aged 15 to 74 years had a low education level in 2022. On Bonaire this percentage was also higher than two years previously. In spite of the relatively low levels of education, in 2021 over 70 percent of island inhabitants aged 15 years and older were satisfied with the learning opportunities they had.

Education level
CategorieLow (%)Medium (%)High (%)
St Eustatius61.721.814.5
European Netherlands25.437.236.6