The Netherlands is usually classified in the welfare state literature as having a so-called corporatist (or conservative) welfare state regime: i.e., a regime traditionally characterised by differences in social insurance entitlement and benefits across occupational groups (Esping-Andersen 1990). In addition, the country has a history of conservatism when it comes to families and gender roles, but also of relative liberalism regarding new forms of families (including same-sex couples). For the specific field of family policy, the Netherlands is usually included among the countries which provide relatively high levels financial support for families with children, but much more limited support for working parents (Stier, Lewin-Epstein, Braun 2001; Thévenon 2011).
In terms of governance and general principles, the Netherlands became focused on governmental support for families in the 1960s, when a separate Directorate for Family Policy was established at the former Ministry of Culture, Recreation, and Social Work (Van Den Brekel and Van De Kaa 1994). Since then, however, responsibility for public support for families has been spread out over various ministries and local governments. The plurality of family forms, together with individual responsibility and the privacy of family life, continue to be guiding principles of Dutch family policies (Hantrais and Letablier 1996).
Preschool: The provision of publicly funded preschool (from the age of four) dates back to 1956 with the passage of the first Nursery Education Act. In 1981 (effective in 1985), these nursery schools (kleuterschool) were integrated into the general primary education system (basisschool) (Wet op het primair onderwijs 1981). Under the new system, attendance remains optional for four-year-olds, but is compulsory from the age of five onwards. In 2005/06, an estimated 74% of four-year-old children were enrolled in preschool programmes (grade 1 of Basisschool). Special preschool programmes are also offered to children ages 2-4 who are at risk of a language disadvantage (primarily migrant children).
Childcare and afterschool care: The financing structures and quality standards for childcare provision date back to the 1970s. The number of children in care has increased rapidly in recent decades in response to the growing participation of mothers in the labour market, and to a series of stimulus measures by the government (including the 1990 Stimuleringsmaatregel Kinderopvang). Today, the system encompasses a wide mix of public and private, and informal and formal care. Many children attend childcare on a part-time (as opposed to a full-time) basis, which reflects the high prevalence of part-time work among mothers (and to a lesser extent among fathers). The provision of childcare is regulated by the Childcare Act of 2005, which gave childcare its own statutory framework, including supervision and funding. This act was amended and renamed in 2010 as the “Childcare and Quality Standards for Playgroups Act”. This act better regulated the alignment of playgroups (peuterzaal) and day nurseries in terms of the quality of their educational offerings, and made municipalities responsible for providing early childhood education to all children.
The provision of after-school care (buitenschool or BSO) has followed a similar trajectory, and is also made up of a mix of formal and informal care. Several laws passed in the late 1990s sought to extend the availability of after-school care. In 2007, schools became obliged to offer after-school care services to all children wishing to participate (ages four to 12 years old) (Wijziging van de Wet kinderopvang 2007).
The cost and funding of childcare varies considerably depending on the type of care. A key law in this area is the act from 2007 referred to above, which marked a shift towards the “marketisation” of childcare. According to the act, the provision of childcare should be financed by parents, the state, and employers. The subsidies to parents are administered through the tax system (Belastingdienst) and are income-dependent, such that lower-income families receive a larger subsidy. In very recent years, this subsidy has been significantly reduced; a change which has been widely criticised. From a cross-national perspective, the actual cost of childcare is very high in the Netherlands, but so are also the benefits to families, resulting in a net cost to parents which is around the European average for average-income families (OECD 2011).
The Netherlands was among the first countries to introduce a law on maternity protection (signed in 1930 but introduced in 1919) (Wet tot wijziging der Ziektewet). It provided 12 weeks of leave with full wage compensation (less for unmarried women). But while other countries significantly expanded their maternity scheme leaves during the following decades, the Netherlands did so only very slightly (Gauthier 2014). As a result, the country’s maternity scheme is currently among the shortest in Europe, with 16 weeks of leave with benefits equal to 100% of wages. This includes four (or six) weeks before the expected date of delivery, and 12 (or 10) weeks after childbirth (bevallingsverlof). The law also stipulates, however, that women may not be fired during their pregnancy.
In the Netherlands, both parents are entitled to parental leave, which is designed to allow them to spend more time with their children. The law dates back to 1990 (Wet Ouderschapsverlof ), when both parents became entitled to an unpaid leave of 26 weeks. The number of hours of leave per week may not exceed half of the working hours per week. Unless the employer does so voluntarily, parental leave is not paid.
In 2013, 57% of the women entitled to parental leave took parental leave, and 28% of these women were paid while on leave. By contrast, only 23% of the men entitled to parental leave took the leave, and only 12% were paid (Statistics Netherlands, 2014).
The first Family Allowance Act was introduced in 1941 (Kinderbijslagwet), and provided benefits only to working families with more than two children, as it was assumed that the average worker’s salary was sufficient to support a family with two children. Furthermore, the benefits were only provided for children up to 15 years old, and were dependent on the income of the parents. In 1947, the income dependency was abolished and wage earners were also entitled to an allowance for their first and second children under 18 years old. In 1963, family allowances were extended to self-employed people (Kinderbijslagwet Zelfstandigen (KKZ)).
Currently, all families living in the Netherlands are entitled to a family allowance if their child (biological, adopted, step or foster) is younger than 18 years old. The amount of the family allowance depends on the age of the child (0-6: 191.65 euros, 6-12: 232.71 euros, 12-18: 273.78 euros). Parents get family allowances for their 16- and 17-year-old children only if the children are enrolled in an education programme aimed at obtaining a basic qualification (VMBO, HAVO/ VWO). Furthermore, the parents of children who are earning more than 1,266 euros per quarter or who are entitled to study benefits are not entitled to a family allowance.
There are also various child and family tax benefits, including benefits for low-income families, lone-parent families, families with young children, and families using childcare facilities. There are also special allowances for families with children with disabilities.
Marriage legislation has a long tradition in the Netherlands. The minimum age at marriage was set in the 1811 Civil Code Burgerlijk Wetboek). It mandated that the groom be at least 18 years old and the bride be at least 15 years old (increased to 16 years old in 1838). Due to a recent amendment to the Civil Code, both men and women are now required to be at least 18 years old before they can marry.
In addition to stipulating a minimum age, the marriage laws also require that at least one of the partners be Dutch or a Dutch resident, and that the partners should not be related: parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, and brothers and sisters are forbidden to marry in the Netherlands.
Since 2001, a marriage can be contracted between two same-sex individuals (Wet tot wijziging van Boek 1 van het Burgerlijk Wetboek in verband met de openstelling van het huwelijk voor personen van hetzelfde geslacht (wet openstelling huwelijk) .
Divorce on the grounds of adultery has been permitted in the Netherlands since 1580. While liberal legislation enacted during the French Revolution in 1796 permitted couples to separate from table and board by mutual consent on the grounds of incompatibility, complete separation of a marriage was still only permitted on the grounds of adultery. However, following the introduction of the Civil Code in 1838, divorce was no longer possible by mutual consent, and was much more difficult to obtain.
As a result of an amendment of the Civil Code in 1971, the Netherlands was among the first countries to permit divorce on the basis of mutual consent. This amendment led to a dramatic increase in the number of divorces (Janssen, 2011).
A new form of divorce (flitsscheiding) was introduced in 2001 which allowed married couples to convert their marriage into a registered partnership which could subsequently be dissolved without intervention of the court. This option was abolished in 2009.
Cohabitation and civil unions
Since 1997, same-sex and different-sex couples in the Netherlands have been permitted to enter into a registered partnership, a legally recognised living arrangement (Wet geregistreerd partnerschap 1997). Since 2004, couples who register their partnership have almost the same legal rights as married couples. The exceptions include the presumption of paternity, inter-country adoption, joint property, joint debt, alimony, inheritance, and use of each other’s surname (Waaldijk, 2005).
Although not legally recognised, cohabiting couples may also sign a cohabitation agreement. This is a written agreement settling certain matters relating to cohabitation. In some cases, a notarised cohabitation agreement may yield certain benefits, such as access to the partner’s pension plan and fringe benefits.
- Esping-Andersen, G. (1990). Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity Press
- Gauthier, A.H. (2014). Van voorloper tot achterblijver: 100 jaar zwangerschapsverlof in Nederland. Demos. 30, 9 (Oct).
- Hantrais, L., Letablier, M-T. (1996). Families and family policies in Europe. Addison Wesley.
- Janssen, M. (2011). Einde van de grote leugen. Historisch Nieuwsblad, 1.
- OECD (2011). Doing Better for Families. Paris, OECD.
- Statistics Netherlands (2014). Ouderschapsverlof; gebruik en duur. Den Haag/Heerlen: 31-07-2014. Retrieved from: http://statline.cbs.nl/StatWeb/publication/
- Stier, H., Lewin-Epstein, N., Braun, M. (2001). Welfare regimes, family-suportive policies, and women’s employment alogn the life-course. American Journal of Sociology. 106, 6: 1731—60.
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- Van de Brekel, J.C., van de Kaa, D.J. (1994). The Netherlands: aspects of family policy in the setting of the Second Demographic Trainsition. In” W. Dumon (ed.) Changing Family Policies I nthe Member States of the European Union. Brussels.pp. 225-54.
- Waaldijk, K. (2005). Major legal consequences of marriage, cohabitation, and registered partnership for different-sex and same-sex partners in the Netherlands. In: K. Waaldijk (eds.), more or less together: levels of legal consequences of marriage, cohabitation and registered countries. Paris: Institut National d’Etudes Démographiques, pp. 137-154.