Rise in employment participation rates of women and older people

The government has identified women and older people as target groups for increased labour market participation. For this reason, the government and social partners decided to establish a taskforce at their June 2007 summit. Figures published in the autumn of 2007 show that participation rates have increased for both target groups. The Dutch Trade Union Federation and the think tank Equality believe the level of participation could be increased further.

At their June 2007 summit, the Dutch cabinet and the social partners decided to establish a taskforce to raise the level of labour market participation, particularly among women and older people (NL0704059I, NL0707069I). In the autumn of 2007, the Central Bureau of Statistics (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, CBS) published figures showing that labour market participation has indeed risen for these target groups. The desire of women and older people to seek paid employment has also increased.

Labour market participation rates

Gross labour market participation for older people aged between 55 and 64 years totalled 47% in 2007; in comparison, only 25% of this age group were either working or seeking employment in 1996. An increase in active employment has also been recorded for people aged 45–54 years: their labour market participation has risen from 500,000 to 820,000 workers over the past five-year period.

In particular, the proportion of older women in active employment has increased: when comparing with figures from 10 years ago, the share of women aged between 55 and 60 years in the labour market has doubled to 45% in 2006. Expectations are that this trend will continue in the near future. Labour market participation among men of the same age group has also risen slightly to 77%, which almost corresponds to the national average of the labour force participation rate. Nevertheless, the participation rate of people aged 60 years and over is significantly lower at 33%; for women in this age group, labour market participation stands at only 14%.

Older people under-represented in filling vacancies

Women and older people have been identified as target groups for increased labour market participation across the board in the government’s policy. Nonetheless, a certain disparity exists between the cabinet’s participation targets for older employees and the viewpoint of older employees regarding their labour market participation. A survey conducted in 2006 revealed that of the group of non-active older employees, only 6% would like to return to the labour market, while only 1% of vacancies are filled by employees aged 55 years and older.

According to the Centre for Work and Income (Centrum voor Werk en Inkomen, CWI), these figures illustrate that only a limited number of companies are taking further labour shortages into account when it comes to the recruitment of older workers. The increasing participation among older employees probably results from the fact that employees are remaining in the labour market for a longer period of time.

Potential female labour force underused

It is noteworthy that for women, the will to participate in the labour market is high among those without work. According to the study on women’s labour market participation Vrouwenparticipatie (119Kb PDF), more than half (56%) of the 40% of non-active women would very much like to return to employment. The study was carried out in 2007 at the request of the Dutch Trade Union Federation (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV). Other findings revealed that 25% of actively employed women would like to work longer hours while 14% would like to work less. Hence, the potential labour force of 1.5 million women is not being utilised. The average labour market participation among women has remained at close to 56% for some years, while the government envisages reaching a female participation rate of 65% by 2010.

Combining work and care greatest problem

Equality, a knowledge centre for emancipation, family and diversity, underlines the problems surrounding the combination of work and care as the most important reason for women not being able to work more outside the home. More than half of all employers still fail to consider aligning work arrangements and care as one of their responsibilities (Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau (SCP), Emancipatiemonitor 2006 [Emancipation Monitor 2006], The Hague, 2006). Equality expects that labour shortages will force employers to do more about raising the level of flexibility within organisations.

Equality recommends that the government extends the various forms of parental leave, as well as increasing the availability of day-care facilities and aligning these better with working schedules and school hours. It is also proposed that tax compensation awarded to single-income households be taken up in the tax credits for double-earner households, where both partners work outside the home. The latter tax credit is known as the ‘combination discount’. The so-called ‘kitchen-sink subsidy’ (Aanrechtsubsidie), however, sends a mixed message to women with children; staying at home without performing any paid work is also a legitimate option supported by the government.

Marianne Grünell, Hugo Sinzheimer Institute (HSI)

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