The Demographic Future of the Netherlands
The Netherlands, a Demographic Wave
A small country in north-western Europe, the Netherlands officially gained its independence in 1648. It is a country that gained its identity by its constant battle against the sea, and it is a battle they have won. Now, the Netherlands face a brand new challenge. Waves of migrants are flooding the country, but a debate on the consequences is rare. As in the rest of the West, migration started after the last world war. Temporary labour migrants came to fill the jobs ”the Dutch did not want to do”. These Turkish and Moroccan migrants turned out to be permanent rather than temporary. Quite the opposite to leaving happened – they brought over their families. Adding onto this first wave of migrants were those from the old colonies.
The Dutch have their own colonial guilt, having had colonies in Suriname, Indonesia and several island in the Caribbean. They did have other colonies, but those were taken over by the English, such as New York and South Africa. To go back to our point – migrants from these old colonies of course came to live in the Netherlands. The same has happened in the United Kingdom and France.
Now, they are experiencing their third wave of migrants. The odd combination of refugees as well as Africans that will supposedly fund the pensions and fill the gap left by low fertility rates. What will the future hold for this country?
The Research is already done
For some countries there is almost nothing on the internet about their demographic expectations, luckily the Netherlands is different. Van de Beek is a demographer that wanted to investigate how migration influences the welfare state. Initially his university (University of Amsterdam) declined his research suggestion, he turned his back to the academic world and became a freelance researcher. Van de Beek wanted to find out how much migrants would cost, and how they identified themselves. Many politicians refuse to discuss an upper-limit for migration, but if we don’t know how much it costs to take a migrant into the country, how can we know when it would be more than what is affordable? We will get back to these findings.
What is the current situation?
The Netherlands has a population of 17.2 million. The native Dutch population consists of 13.2 million people, but will shrink to 12.1 million by 2060. This means that 4 million currently have a migrant background. Despite a low fertility rate of 1.78 (as of 2017), the population grows by 100.000 people per year. As is typical in Europe, the native population is shrinking and all population growth is due to migrants entering the country.
The, now retired, head of the Central Bureau of Statistics Jans Latten wonders why there is no debate about population size. He says that in the 1970’s there was a fear the population would reach 20 million, an undesired outcome as the country would be too full. As anti-conception and abortion combined with a cultural shift caused the birth rates to fall, the debate disappeared. Nonetheless, we are heading towards the 20 million again, Latten claims. Population is growing rapidly due to migration, but nobody dares to discuss if this growth is desirable.
The Rise of Islam
In 2016 the Muslim population in the Netherlands was 7.1%. By 2050 this percentage is expected to grow to 9.1% (Under zero migration) up to 15.2% under high migration. Muslims in the Netherlands have a fertility rate of 2.7, which is above the replacement rate – versus the native Dutch 1.66. Hence even with zero migration the percentage of Muslims in the country is expected to grow.
Let’s have a brief side-note on slavery. Apart from colonial guilt there is also a certain guilt for being involved in the slave trade in the Netherlands. Being a global maritime power during the era, of course the Dutch were involved. However, so were the Moroccan and Turkish predecessors. The Ottoman Empire and Barbary States were also involved in the slave trade. Among others, they enslaved the Dutch and put them to work in North-Africa. The women were generally used as sex-slaves. This, of course, does not excuse the behaviour of the Dutch during the era, but the slaving history of Muslim empires is often ignored or forgotten.
Van de Beek states that the Moroccan and Turkish Muslim youths, even the 2nd generation born in the Netherlands, rarely identifies primarily as Dutch. This is very different from the Indonesians who have blended into Dutch society. The Dutch expected the same to happen with the Muslim communities, but this has turned out to be a naive and false belief. He also shares that 70% of the Muslims prefer Sharia law over Dutch law. A clear sign that integration is failing.
The Turkish community in the Netherlands already has their own national party, called DENK. They currently hold 3 out of 150 seats in the national parliament and signal a strong liking for Turkish President Erdogan. Another clear sign that integration is failing.
The Future of the Netherlands
By 2100 there will be only around 8 million people left in the Netherlands that have descended from ethnic Dutch ancestors, according to Van de Beek. The rest of the country will be descended from migrants, unless present trends are altered before then. We should ask ourselves the question – will this still be the what we call ”the Netherlands”? If the majority of the country consists of groups that do not identify as Dutch, what does that mean for social cohesion? What does it mean for the welfare state? What does it mean for Dutch culture and values?
In the scenario of unlimited migration the Netherlands could have a population of over 25 million by 2060, out of which only 12.1 million are Dutch. In only 40 years the Dutch would have become a minority in their country. Even with restrictions on migration, the total population would be growing to 18-22 million by 2060. In the ‘unlimited migration’ scenario we see a mass influx of migrants coming from Sub-Saharan Africa. According to Van de Beek the massive population growth in Africa will create Malthusian pressures, causing a huge flow of migrants wanting to migrate north to flee from poverty and famine.
Yet, Van de Beek says, European governments don’t have a responsibility of care towards these migrants. They have a responsibility towards their citizens and the migrants already living here. Letting all the migrants come into the country would mean the importation of poverty, the destruction of social cohesion and the creation of an unbearable burden on the welfare state. In essence it would destroy the Netherlands.
Although the world-famous party of Geert Wilders frequently calls attention to the issue of growing Islamic influences in the country, they hardly talk about demographics in the long-term. There is only one party that has called out the significant shift that is happening.
Forum voor Democratie, translated as Forum for Democracy, has published a prediction on their website for what the country will look like in two generations. They state that by the end of the century the natives will be a minority in their country. Something, they say, that the children going to elementary school today will experience. They are the only party so far that has called attention to the long-term demographic trends in the country, and with 2 seats in parliament so far they are still too small to draw governmental attention to it. Polls do show them frequently polling around 15 seats, or 10% of the voters – a clear sign the Dutch share this concern.
And what about the costs?
Research has shown that non-western immigrants cost the Netherlands 7.2 billion euro per year. This is close to the total cost of defense spending, which totaled 7.9 billion in 2017. And, of course, these costs will continue to rise as more migrants come to the Netherlands. Although some people are reluctant to discuss migrants by looking at their cost, it is essential for a welfare state to keep an eye on its expenses or it will at some point collapse under its own weight. As the Dutch stand by as their VAT tax increases, it is critical to understand what this money is needed for.
Why are the costs so high? Well, because these groups are highly over represented in the group that lives on welfare.
Groups on welfare in the Netherlands
The table above shows the amount of people belonging to an ethnic group that are living on welfare, in percentages by 2014 data. The ethnicity at the top are the Dutch. Going down the list we have; Dutch, Turkish, Moroccan, Somalian, Iraqi, Syrian, Afghan, Iranian, Eritrean, and lastly Polish. This shows us nearly 70% of Somalian migrants in the Netherlands are living on welfare. This makes the argument that we need migrants to fill the jobs in our booming economy rather odd. Clearly the migrants are hardly working. One group is different – the Polish. The Polish actually rely less on welfare than the native Dutch, they really do come to work.
In 2016, a whopping 16% of non-western migrants were living of welfare. And the number for the Dutch? Around 2%. Frankly, the Dutch welfare state is not designed to have 16% of the people living on welfare. Needless to say, it’s not a sustainable future and the need for reformation is urgent.
After reading this there are a few points you need to take away from this. The first and foremost being that an ongoing migration into the Netherlands will drastically change the country and create a heterogeneous society where millions don’t identify with the Dutch identity.
Moreover, these millions will be an economic burden on the country. They take more money from the state than they put in. Who will pay for that? How many tax increases can the government do before the welfare state collapses under its own weight?
And lastly, why is this not something the Dutch are discussing more openly? Why is it such a strange question to ask what the cost of a migrant is, or what the upper limit of migration is? Such questions are a necessity to maintain a functioning welfare state.
If the Netherlands wants to maintain its distinct cultural identity, it will need to re-think its migration policy. With the population boom in Africa it will not be able to sustain itself if those groups continue to flow into Europe.
Read more similar case studies of other countries here.