The story

Well-being concerns people’s quality of life here and now and the extent to which it is – or is not – achieved at the expense of well-being of future generations and/or of people elsewhere in the world. The monitor describes well-being from a human perspective. In principle, it relates to all residents of the Netherlands, irrespective of gender, age, religion or other characteristics. In practice, the monitor refers to individuals, households, main earners, employees, students, etc., depending on statistical information available on the themes concerned.

Well-being concerns people’s freedom of choice, the choices they actually make here and now to make their lives worthwhile, the results of these choices and the effects of their choices on others – in the future and elsewhere. Importantly, levels of well-being may differ between population groups and between regions.

Well-being comprises three dimensions:

Well-being ‘here and now’ concerns people currently living in the Netherlands. It includes their personal characteristics and the quality of the environment in which they live; more generally, it relates to their material well-being and welfare, and how they perceive these.

Well-being ‘later’ relates to people who will be living in the Netherlands a few decades from now. They too will need the resources the present generation are using to achieve the same level of well-being.

Well-being ‘elsewhere’ refers to people living in other countries who feel – or will feel – the effects of choices Dutch people make. Specifically effects on jobs, income, resources (renewable and non-renewable) and the environment in these countries.

People use their resources (‘capitals’) to shape their lives. They make their own choices, either individually or as part of a family or household, based on personal needs, preferences, and capabilities. They use financial assets and savings to buy or rent a home, buy a car, take a long holiday, or build up a supplementary pension. Social networks help people find work, spend free time with friends, or stop them from becoming lonely. Within local communities, people support each other and feel safer and more comfortable. Nearby green spaces and natural areas give people the chance to do outdoor activities, enjoy the fresh air, peacefulness and the scenery. Knowledge and skills enable individuals to function effectively in society, spend their time meaningfully and healthily, and maintain control over their own lives.

People also rely on resources over which they have no individual control. Some of these are provided by national and local government, social institutions, businesses and civil society. Material well-being, for example, relies strongly on knowledge development and technological innovation by businesses and academia. Collective societal institutions ensure safety and stability, provide care and security, accommodate cultural diversity and safeguard historical heritage. Schools teach children how society and politics work, how to be good citizens, what fundamental rights entail and how democracy works.

Some of these resources serve a public function while nobody is directly responsible for them. Nature serves as a habitat for plants and animals, and natural processes (biological, chemical, and geological) ensure that the planet is habitable for humans. Humans can protect nature, but they cannot really control it. The same is true for social capital: shared norms and values, traditions, and culture play a crucial role in society.

Everyone in the Netherlands has the same fundamental human rights. Inclusivity means that everyone essentially has the same freedoms to lead a meaningful life, regardless of gender, age, religion, ethnicity, place of residence or other personal characteristics. In practice, however, as not everyone is equally free to choose, and not everyone makes the same choices, well-being varies between population groups and between regions. There is an ongoing necessity to prevent excesses such as human deprivation, extreme inequality and social exclusion.

In all aspects of well-being ‘here and now’, choices people make about how they use their ‘capitals’ — individually and collectively — affect well-being ‘later’ and ‘elsewhere’, as well as the distribution of well-being. If the current generation depletes or degrades available capitals, the next generation will not be able to achieve the same level of well-being in their ‘here and now’. Diminishing mutual trust, declining social, societal, and political participation, outdated technology, neglected infrastructure, unequal education opportunities and lack of training in essential skills will all inevitably have consequences for the next generation. This may mean that people will live their lives differently, not necessarily with a lower level of well-being. If natural capital is exhausted, especially on a global scale, the very foundation of human life will come under threat.

Well-being relies on the functioning of three main systems: the biosphere, which makes life possible; society, which gives people a sense of purpose in terms of relations and interactions with each other; and the economy, which has to meet material needs such as food, clothing and a place to live. These three underlying systems are hierarchical: no life without a biosphere, no economy without a society.


Human habitability of the Earth is subject to the health of the biosphere, which comprises all areas where life is possible. Human activities put pressure on the functioning of planetary systems that make the biosphere habitable; for example through greenhouse gas emissions, environmental pollution, land use and the degradation of ecosystems and biodiversity. Too much pressure can unbalance a system and, beyond a certain point, cause irreversible change. This point is called the ‘planetary boundary’, of which nine have been scientifically established. The ultimate task facing us today is to ensure a sustainable quality of life for an extensive and increasing population, while remaining within the planetary boundaries, and maintaining a fair distribution of well-being (Raworth, 2017; Rockstrom et al., 2023; Myers, 2017 ).

Long-term developments

Long-term developments change the context in which people make life-affecting choices. These developments do not necessarily have a direct (positive or negative) effect on well-being. But while individuals do not have any control over these developments, they do affect the range of choices they can make. Long-term developments are placing more and more pressure on Dutch well-being, especially that of future generations.

Ageing is gradually changing the ratio between the working and the non-working population. This will affect the sustainability of pensions and social security. The increasingly older population also brings significant challenges for healthcare and increasing pressure on the housing market.

Urbanisation is changing people’s natural and social living environment, resulting in the need for new amenities and infrastructure, and posing challenges to mobility, health and safety.

Migration affects all dimensions of well-being in the Netherlands. Most of current population growth is caused by migration and this will continue to be the case in the future. More people means increasing pressure on natural resources, housing, and space. Added to this, migrant arrivals affect social cohesion in terms of both integration and concerns within society (SCP, 2022 ). It is difficult to pinpoint how migration affects certain aspects of well-being ‘here and now’, ‘later’, and ‘elsewhere’. The relationship between migration and well-being is complex and cannot be captured in a single indicator. Scientific evidence for the effects of immigration and emigration on the destination country is not clear-cut. It often involves weighing positive and negative effects, not an absolute effect. Moreover, these effects differ for different groups and are valued differently.

Digitisation, robotics, and globalisation are changing the extent to which people are in control of their own lives and directly and indirectly influence subjective well-being, perceived control over life, mental health, work and leisure time, social relationships and other aspects of well-being. Digitisation has resulted in numerous life-enriching options (such as smartphone apps). However, they come with significant challenges in terms of privacy and personal data, use of algorithms, risk of exclusion and choice limitation, and the ongoing need for new skills to use technology and information. Robotics and artificial intelligence pose an increasing threat to certain jobs (such as translators and call-centre workers). And as globalisation is increasingly interconnecting the world economically, culturally, politically and socially, the Netherlands is becoming more and more dependent on decisions made elsewhere in the world.

How does CBS measure well-being?

CBS publishes the Monitor of Well-being and the Sustainable Development Goals annually at the request of the Dutch House of Representatives. The report gives an overall picture of the most recent situation of and trends in well-being and is presented to the House on Accountability Day in May. The monitor describes well-being ‘here and now’, ‘later’ and ‘elsewhere’, and to complete the picture provides data on the distribution of well-being, on the Sustainable Development Goals and on resilience of well-being.

The monitor describes medium-term trends (for the period 2016-2013), compares the Netherlands with the other EU27 countries where possible, and for each indicator measures the change between the two most recent results. Read more about the framework of the monitor here. The explanatory notes also comprise extensive information on definitions, indicator selection, statistical methods and the key to the colour codes used in the graphics.

CBS publications on well-being are intended as basis information for politicians, policymakers, and other users of well-being statistics, such as advisory boards, policy analysis organisations, research institutions and civil society organisations, at both national and regional levels. In addition to this monitor, CBS publishes regional monitors (Monitor of well-being and the SDGs in the Caribbean Netherlands annually in November and the Regional Monitor of well-being annually in December), and well-being factsheets (on Budget Day in September) to support the budgetary process of the Dutch government.

CBS monitors well-being comprehensively – it covers all aspects of the phenomenon – and does so systematically – based on international standards and transparent methods.

The Conference of European Statisticians (CES) Recommendations on Measuring Sustainable Development (UNECE, 2014) are used to measure well-being. CBS is working alongside others within the United Nations, OECD and Eurostat to develop and harmonise the CES Recommendations and other international frameworks.

To remain relevant and useful, CBS monitoring seeks to reflect themes and issues in Dutch society, and to provide statistics for these themes. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework to describe – from a neutral and systematic perspective – themes relevant to government policy and political debate. The SDGs are an integral part of well-being: well-being is the overarching phenomenon, while the SDGs are internationally agreed goals that address ecological, social and economic aspects of well-being. The 17 SDGs were established by the United Nations in 2015. Leaders of 193 countries committed to this sustainable development agenda, which runs until 2030 (UN, 2015).

The picture that well-being portrays is a politically neutral one. Statistical monitoring is systematic and comprehensive, not selective. By definition, it encompasses all dimensions and themes. However, users may choose selectively and use the available information for their own political or societal purposes. Based on the extensive data and information on well-being, others may come up with counterarguments. All side effects, side effects and trade-offs are described, both the positive and the negative ones. CBS monitors well-being to provide factual evidence for debate and decision-making.

CBS only monitors statistically measurable aspects of well-being. Many aspects are essential but statistically ‘invisible’: for example, strength of democracy and rule of law, intrinsic value of nature and cultural norms and values. It is important that public debate on well-being is not narrowed down beforehand to aspects that are measurable. Where possible, CBS measures these non-measurable aspects indirectly (using perception indicators, for example) and to keep them constantly in focus.