Prevalence of part-time work impedes women’s career path

For 2008, it has again been revealed that 75% of all women working in the Netherlands hold part-time jobs and are satisfied with this. The ‘Deeltijd-Plus’ government committee was set up to develop policy directed at women aspiring to work longer hours. Although women now wish to work an average of five hours more a week, employers appear to provide little incentive to do so. Since early 2009, the number of women in upper management positions in companies is stagnating.

In 2008, it continued to be the case that 75% of all women working in the Netherlands hold part-time positions and that their working week has not been extended. Moreover, the ‘2008 Emancipation Monitor’ (Emancipatiemonitor) under the remit of the Social and Cultural Planning Office (Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau, SCP) shows that women working part time are satisfied with their working week and that they do not feel any economic necessity to work longer hours. However, 75% of all men working in full-time positions do not believe that they could manage without their income. At the same time, the proportion of women working in the Netherlands is relatively high at 60%. In fact, the share of women participating in the labour market continues to grow each year by two percentage points. However, the proportion of women in full-time positions has not risen significantly since 1971.

Part-time work an obvious choice for women

Working part time has become an obvious choice for Dutch women. Most women who work part time have no desire to work full time; they wish to have free time to spend on housework, with their children and on their hobbies. Most women working part time have a partner who works five days a week. The women’s income is considered supplementary. Of all women who work, 43% enjoy financial independence. Whereas the breadwinner model dominated in previous times, the ‘one-and-a-half incomes’ model now persists. This certainly represents a major labour market change, but men still provide the most substantial part of the household income, while more women tend to provide financial supplements and assume responsibility for care tasks. Men and women remain traditional in how they understand their duties. Couples in this position appear insufficiently aware of the fact that statistically one in three relationships breaks up or that the male partner could become occupationally disabled, which could lead to a substantial income loss for the household.

Government contributed to ‘part-time’ work culture

The present government hopes to move away from this culture of part-time working among women in a bid to encourage them to work more, and also to better equip the Dutch labour market to face the consequences of an ageing population. However, it can also be argued that government policy contributed towards creating this culture. In the mid 1980s, the government encouraged part-time work among women by supporting better terms and conditions of employment for part-time workers and by obliging employers to respond seriously to employees’ requests for adjusting their working hours.

While most women consciously choose to work part time, many of them would be prepared to work longer hours. This willingness depends on the employer’s degree of flexibility, which does not appear to have increased over the years. Women, however, want to have a say about their working hours and location. They also want to carry out substantively challenging work and want to be financially successful. According to the study, if employers were to satisfy these needs, the average number of weekly working hours for women could rise from almost 17 to about 24 hours.

Role of employers role in part-time work increase

Employers do not appear to strongly encourage women to work longer hours, despite women’s evident willingness to do so. This is especially true of women with small-scale part-time jobs, who work fewer than 19 hours a week. The number of employers adopting a flexible attitude towards working hours and work locations is disappointing. During the study carried out as part of the Emancipation Monitor, it even appeared difficult to find examples of good practice and/or of individuals determining their own work roster, working at home or teleworking. The government’s committee Deeltijd-Plus’ is pleased about the fact that women want to work longer hours. Five additional hours a week would amount to half a million extra full-time jobs. Employers must now satisfy framework conditions for women, such as coordinating working hours with private life.

Views of social partners

The Dutch Trade Union Federation (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV) highlights that demands like this have only recently been tabled in collective bargaining. However, employers are hesitant about such change as they see self-rostering as a threat to productivity. Requests from men and women wanting to work shorter hours receive differing responses from employers: women are often immediately granted approval while men are warned of the career consequences of such a move. FNV supports the Emancipation Monitor’s recommendation that employers should first offer company vacancies to part-time employees.

Number of women in management stagnates

In light of these findings, it is hardly surprising that the number of women in management positions stagnated in 2008. A recent study shows that a mere 5.7% of the supervisory directors and chief executives of listed companies are women. The annual ‘Female Board Index’ compiled by the Erasmus University Rotterdam (Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, EUR) shows that of the 831 executive positions, women hold only 47 of them. Of the 113 companies involved in the study, women held executive positions in only three more companies than in 2007, bringing the total proportion to about 30% of companies. The food sector company Ahold tops the list in this regard, with four of its 11 executive positions occupied by women.


Social and Cultural Planning Office (Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau), Verdeelde tijd. Waarom vrouwen in deeltijd werken [Divided time. Why women work part time], The Hague, SCP, 2008.

Marianne Grünell, Hugo Sinzheimer Institute (HSI)

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Add new comment