Dutch Women Don’t Get Depressed

From Slate, by Jessica Olien:

When you read an article like this, what do you think about? Do you wonder if there might be a better way in the USA? Do you see the Dutch system as inadequate? Or … what?

Here’s one suggestion: Perhaps we need to be more active about finding a system were choice is honored — where women who work are fine; where women who don’t work are fine; where men who stay at home are fine. But where there’s less pressure for everyone to be everything.

Anyway, this is an interesting piece and good for a conversation today.

I’ve been in the Netherlands for nearly three months now, and I’ve come to one overwhelming conclusion: Dutch women are not like me. I worry about my career incessantly. I take daily stock of its trajectory and make vicious mental critiques of my endeavors. And I know—based on weekly phone conversations with friends in the United States—that my masochistic drive for success is widely shared among my female friends. Meanwhile, the Dutch women around me take a lackadaisical approach to their careers. They work half days, meet their friends for coffee at 2 p.m., and pity their male colleagues who are stuck in the office all day.

Though the Netherlands is consistently ranked in the top five countries for women, less than 10 percent of women here are employed full-time. And they like it this way. Incentives to nudge women into full-time work have consistently failed. Less than 4 percent of women wish they had more working hours or increased responsibility in the workplace, and most refuse extended hours even when the opportunity for advancement arises. Some women cite the high cost of child care as a major factor in their shorter hours, but 62 percent of women working part time in the Netherlands don’t have young children in the house, and mothers rarely increase their working hours even when their children leave home.

Question: If French women don’t get fat, and Dutch women don’t get depressed, what do American women “don’t”?

It’s hard not to wonder: Have we gotten it all wrong? In the United States, the race for equality has gone mostly in one direction. Women want to shatter the glass ceiling, reach the top spots in the hierarchy, and earn the same respect and salaries as men do. But perhaps this situation is setting us up for a world in which none of us is having any fun. After all, studies of female happiness in the U.S. find that even as our options have increased and we have become financially more independent than in any previous time in our history, American women as a whole are not getting any happier. If anything, the studies show that we are emotionally less well-off than we were before. Wasn’t the whole point of the fight for equality in the workplace to improve our wellbeing?

… The NIS News Bulletin interpreted the results of the study as: “Attempts to get more women working full-time are doomed to failure because nobody has a desire for this. Both the women themselves and their partners and employers are satisfied with the Dutch part-time culture for women.”

… When I talk to women who spend half the week doing what they want—playing sports, planting gardens, doing art projects, hanging out with their children, volunteering, and meeting their family friends—I think, yes, that sounds wonderful. I can look around at the busy midweek, midday markets and town squares and picture myself leisurely buying produce or having coffee with friends. In a book released several years ago called Dutch Women Don’t Get Depressed—a parody of French Women Don’t Get Fat—Dutch psychologist Ellen de Bruin explains that key to a Dutch woman’s happiness is her sense of personal freedom and a good work-life balance. But it’s hard to transplant that image to the United States, where our self-esteem is so closely tied to our work. I wonder what the equivalent title would be: American Women Don’t Get Satisfaction?

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  • Susan N.

    Maybe the secret of the Dutch is a non-conformist culture? Americans pride themselves on their individuality and personal freedoms…but, in reality, most of us (even people of faith, I have observed) are more driven by the cultural “norm” than we want to admit.

    And, the fiercely competitive spirit that drives us makes for a dog-eat-dog, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses life. True choice rests on a foundation of mutual respect and a valuing of differences, I think. Our country doesn’t have such a good track record on that.

    From a practical standpoint, socio-economic factors drive American women to focus on career. Divorced/single mothers need to earn a living wage. And that is a fact, albeit a sad one, of our culture.

    One would think that the struggle for equality is a man/woman issue. But American women can be equally brutal toward one another in competition and defensive posturing, imho.

  • Jason Lee

    It sure seems like the Scandinavians get it right a lot of the time. When you suggest things like introducing paid parental leave in America that’s on par with other developed nations, you hear reactions like “but that would be so hard on businesses!” My reaction is: but it’s so hard on parents and children right now!…do we care about that? It seems that there’s something in the American culture (perhaps the “American Dream” ideology) that puts material success and business interests above all else … including above families and the well-being of the most vulnerable among us…children. Have many American women simply mimicked males and largely imbibed this materialist/careerist success ideology?

    If you respond: “but our economy has been so good historically precisely because we’ve bowed to business interests” … well you’re kind of illustrating how deeply ingrained the materialism success ideology is.

    So what if our economy isn’t at the very top of the heap. Are we willing to sacrifice some material success just to live more balanced lives (and allow the most vulnerable among us to also)?

  • She is correct. Dutch women are not like Jessica Olien. Neither is she like women in the Midwest, South, or Southwest. Her plight accurately mirrors that of urban white careerist post-feminist women. And her survey sample was like-minded friends.

    When I travel to DC for business, I find the same sorts of women who are very much unlike the Dutch, whether they be in the Netherlands or Grand Rapids. They are also unlike the Scandinavian women in Norway, Sweden, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

    As long as she is so insecure as to define her sense of worth by her paycheck, career track, and possessions, she will continue to remain unsatisfied. The reason it’s hard for me to be sympathetic to her “plight” is that it is self-inflicted, self-monitored, and self-controlled. I never cease to be amazed at those claiming to be the Captain of their own Destiny who whine about the course their ships have taken. The only thing worse for her than the problem would be the cure – give up the paycheck, career track, status, and possessions and move to the Midwest where we are a lot more prosaic and pedestrian about such things. I’m not sure she could tolerate that sort of hellish existence.

    To be honest, Jesus already addressed her concerns: Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30

  • rjs

    While I don’t doubt that there are cultural differences between the US and the Netherlands – the opening paragraph is rather misleading. The author is comparing her career oriented friends in the US (a minority) to a broader class of women in the Netherlands.

    Even in the US many people (both men and women) would prefer to work a more limited schedule with time for a more leisurely life.

    I would like to see a culture that allowed both men and women, within the constraint of providing a living for their family, the opportunity to make the appropriate choices for their own families. I don’t think we will ever have a culture with a 50/50 balance of men and women in high-level professions, but that is not significant as long as there is an opportunity for something approaching a level playing field.

  • smcknight

    Rick, let me pushback a bit:

    The issue I see in this article is culture difference. Have we created a culture in which lifestyle demands a two-income family? It appears to me that is not the case in the Netherlands. Am I wrong?

  • Jason Lee

    It seems that part of working for a balanced playing field is that those women who give birth to children shouldn’t be penalized for giving their children good prenatal and antenatal care? And father’s shouldn’t be penalized by employers for giving this care either?

  • Jason Lee

    I don’t know if Jessica’s thoughts can be dismissed so easily. 2009 was the first year in US history for there to be more women in the paid labor force than men. Sure, this doesn’t mean women are now more career-driven than men. But, it may be the case that Jessica Olien might not be too far from the majority of American women who now spend their days in the paid labor force. …this at the same time that technology blurs the lines between job and home.

    Even if Jessica, in her particular article, is comparing apples(the Dutch) with oranges(some highly career-driven friends), her comparison still seems valid at the national cultural attitude level: Dutch women are in favor of paid parental leave and many American women in the Midwest, South, etc… are not. To these conservative American women it sounds like big government impinging upon businesses. I find this ironic because they are in effect allowing the material success ideology to impinge upon families and children.

  • Karl

    The Dutch may have grasped something that most of us here in America haven’t. There are more than a few echoes of Wendell Berry’s writing here. I’m reminded of his essay “Feminism, the Body and the Machine” which is well worth the read, and reprinted here:


    “How, I am asking, can women improve themselves by submitting to the same specialization, degradation, trivialization, and tyrannization of work that men have submitted to? And that question is made legitimate by another: How have men improved themselves by submitting to it? The answer is that men have not, and women cannot, improve themselves by submitting to it.

    “. . . It is easy enough to see why women came to object to the role of Blondie, a mostly decorative custodian of a degraded, consumptive modern household, preoccupied with clothes, shopping, gossip, and outwitting her husband. But are we to assume that one may fittingly cease to be Blondie by becoming Dagwood? Is the life of a corporate underling— even acknowledging that corporate underlings are well paid—an acceptable end to our quest for human dignity and worth? It is clear enough by now that one does not cease to be an underling by reaching “the top.” Corporate life is composed only of lower underlings and higher underlings. Bosses are everywhere, and all the bosses are underlings. This is invariably revealed when the time comes for accepting responsibility for something unpleasant, such as the Exxon fiasco in Prince William Sound, for which certain lower underlings are blamed but no higher underling is responsible. The underlings at the top, like telephone operators, have authority and power, but no responsibility.

    “. . . It is clear that women cannot justly be excluded from the daily fracas by which the industrial economy divides the spoils of society and nature, but their inclusion is a poor justice and no reason for applause. The enterprise is as devastating with women in it as it was before. There is no sign that women are exerting a “civilizing influence” upon it. To have an equal part in our juggernaut of national vandalism is to be a vandal. To call this vandalism “liberation” is to prolong, and even ratify, a dangerous confusion that was once principally masculine.”

    -Wendell Berry, from “Feminism, the Body and the Machine”

  • Robin

    So what we are basically saying is that in the Netherlands, lots of women still have basically the same lifestyle they had in Jane Austen’s Victorian England, and they see no reason to buy into the kind of American consumerism that would force them into debt or increased work hours.

    Consumerism is the culprit here, and yes, it is part of our culture. When you define affordable outfits as $300 skirts on the today show or $600,000 2 bedroom houses, it is inevitable that people will sacrifice their personal lives to buy that American dream. There are still plenty of opportunities to get by on one income if that isn’t your idea of a successful life.

    Also, I don’t see anywhere in the excerpt (unless I missed it) where this is about paid parental leave (extended maternity or paternity leave). This is about a culture that has decided to value their (feminine) leisure time more highly than ipods and has thus taken a permanent leave from the workforce. It says that even after children are grown and hav left the home the women don’t return to the workforce or increase their hours. I don’t know of any type of parental leave that extends beyond the child’s 18th birthday.

  • Robin

    I also tend to think that women in this country face a profound pressure to conform that is alien to men. My wife has faced incredible levels of guilt (internal) and shaming (external0 over issues like being a stay at home mom, planning enough activities while at home, breathing techniques during birthing, getting an epidural, having a baby in a hospital instead of with a midwife, having an emergency c-section, painful breastfeeding of our first child, putting that child on formula, stopping breastfeeding of our 2nd child when she returned to work, returning to work, etc.

    Some of the decisions involved limited financial pressure, but most of them didn’t. She has become so inundated by messages about staying at home, working, natural childbirth, breastfeeding, parenting styles, etc., that it is literally impossible for her to make decisions without at least internal guilt, and often perceived shame concerning other mothers. These are pressures that I just don’t deal with, because I don’t care what other fathers or mothers think about my parenting style. And I perceive that most mothers deal with these issues while most fathers are indifferent. It seems that this feminine guilt/shame is tied in with the author’s experience.

  • From what I understand, depression and stress related problems are not as high for men either. Although men may work more than women, they still work less than American men. Overall, the “basic necessities” of life are provided for thru a much higher tax structure. They may pay more for taxes, but healthcare, higher education, transportation, etc, are crib to coffin. Does this provide them with less income so they can have more in order to “get ahead of the Jones”? Yes, but overall, their culture is not driven by these values. Overall, they are not driven by climbing one more run up the ladder or upgrading their small apartments for 4 bedroom sprawls (yes, I live in one). Quality of life is not defined by quantity – what we call laziness in America.

    They certainly have their share of moral, spiritual and social problems. But I’m not sure our system is designed for a more level playing field for everyone. We squirm at this. Afterall, aren’t we constitutionally formed and driven by the “pursuit of happiness” as now defined by media and Wall Street?

  • Alan K

    If I attempted to answer the question, I would be sleeping on the couch. Guys, let us let the women answer this question and we listen.

  • I would like something more statistically rigorous about the rate of depression than this author’s personal observation. Stats on suicide rate by nation (Suicides per 100,000 people per year):


    Male = 17.7
    Female = 4.5
    Total = 11.1
    (World Rank 40)


    Male = 11.5
    Female = 5.0
    Total = 8.3
    (World Rank 53)

    Notice that, by this measure, men in the Netherlands are much happier than American men while women are actually slightly more unhappy.

    I’m not buying the author’s premise without some more reliable data.

    Also, is a life of leisure really our highest aspiration in life … the thing that will make us the most happy and fulfilled? Living our lives according to our own narcissistic whims of pleasure while making no contribution to the betterment of people’s lives through employment of our gifts either in commerce or in volunteer work? I don’t think you will find that ethic in Scripture.

  • Robin hits the target, I think. If we buy into the excessive consumption that America pushes, I don’t see how it’s possible to get by on less than 2 incomes. The Dutch I have known live more simply and with less interest in the latest consumer fads than we Americans.

    But I suspect there is another difference between the Dutch and Americans, and that is the smaller number of children, and a robust social system that provides for them. Single women supporting children in the US have no alternative but to work, even though that means paying for costly daycare. Europeans have fewer children than Americans, thus reducing their household expenses. It is likely that many (most?) single Dutch women are childless, and those who support children are helped more generously by the government than American women.

    So there are many unexplored differences that may explain the apparent life of leisure Dutch women enjoy. But I suspect the key difference is the Dutch indifference towards the consumer mania that seems to drive us to earn as much as we can and spend well beyond our incomes.

  • Kenny Johnson

    “but 62 percent of women working part time in the Netherlands don’t have young children in the house, and mothers rarely increase their working hours even when their children leave home.”

    I realize this may be cultural, but I’m sorry. If we didn’t have kids or my kids weren’t living with me — my wife would have to work full time — Or at the very least contributing to society in some meaningful way — not meeting her friends for coffee at 2pm.

    That’s right. I’m a feminist! 🙂 Equality, baby.

  • And let me add this, I repeatedly hear endless cries about American consumerism. Meanwhile, billions live in hunger and want around the world. We should give all our excess to help the poor.

    Note per capita income for the two nations (using gross domestic product (GDP) at purchasing power parity (PPP) per capita as a proxy):

    USA = $45,674 (Ranked 3rd)
    Netherlands = $40,852 (Ranked 5th)

    So working and generating wealth is contemptible. We should live more simply give away the rest. But generating the roughly same level of wealth while spending your time sipping wine or taking leisurely naps in the hammock is to be aspired to? This is not an immoral waste of resources and time while billions suffer? Hmmmm…

  • #13 Michael – I did not read the post in a way that suggests that women should just lead a life of leisure. I have many friends who do not work at all and I think they experience depression at the same rate as those who work full time. The issue is balance and in this country we seem to look at this as an all or nothing prospect. To me the post seemed to suggest that American women may experience greater mental health if they had the option of working less than full-time jobs. I know as a former business woman who now works in ministry, I have experienced a radical shift in how I use my time. I have far more freedom in ministry than I had working a corporate 9:00-5:00 job and as a result I experience far less guilt because I am able to be with my kids when I need to be but did not have to give up a ministry I love in order to be the mom I want to be. Corporate America does not offer women many options for part-time work that are rewarding and financially beneficial. I am not so sure that it is that American women choose full-time, I think it may be more that American women have no choices.

  • Robin


    Just to add more to my consumerism story, it isn’t just per capita income, but debt as well. We spend more because we have leveraged our futures to a degree that the Netherlands has not.

    Here are some summary statistics, all of my figures are presented as Netherlands / United States

    Percentage of households with mortgage debt 41% / 49%
    Percentage of households with consumer debt 30% /66%
    Percentage that apply for debt in a given year 24% / 69%
    Percentage denied 5% / 31%
    Average mortgage debt per household $36K / $63K (1992 Euros)
    Average consumer debt per household $2 / $11 (1992 Euros)
    Average total debt per household $39K / $74K

    So, we have comparable mortgage rates, but twice as many Americans (on a percentage basis) have consumer (credit card) debt, and our creidt card debt, on average, is about 5 times higher than theirs. Even more, every year about 3x as many Americans (on a percentage basis) apply for more debt, and our credit, collectively, is already so bad that about 6x as many of us are denied credit. Overall, when you add our mortgage with our credit cards, we have roughly twice the debt per person as the dutch, even though we have comparable incomes. That debt, and the consumerism that caused it, can explain some of the financial pressures we face

  • Jason Lee

    Michael #15:

    Could it also be the case that many Americans work really long and hard hours for large corporations, the elites of which make off with a killing in profits …which they spend on expensive wine, sports cars, and holidays in southern Europe.

    I don’t see how Dutch women’s choice to spend time investing in interpersonal relationships or other activities they might see as meaningful is a waste of time. Killing yourself working for “the man” (and having no meaningful time left for friends or family) may be a waste of one’s life.

  • Robin

    Here is the paper I got the stats from:

  • Jason Lee

    Wendy #17: You bring up a really good point:

    “I am not so sure that it is that American women choose full-time, I think it may be more that American women have no choices.”

  • Jurgen

    Being a dutch guy working fulltime with my wife working parttime I think we fit the sample. But we have had it the other way around. It is not so much of an issue here. Also lots of men work parttime or 4 days of 9 hours so to have a 3 day weekend.

    Taxes are much higher (for me 42%), but healthcare and social security is for everyone available. The only time I ever saw a hospital bill was on holiday in another country.

    So money or carreer is not the driving force. Being able to live as a family and enjoy time together is more worth. This is also proven by the fact that we all have aprox 5 weeks of paid leave every year. 90% of the dutch use this for summer holiday traveling through Europe.

    Hope this helps a bit in trying to bridge the cultural gap. I’ve been in the midwest several times and had lots of conversations. Even for me it is very difficult to think out of the dutch box… 🙂

  • Robin

    I agree that we have no choices if we buy into the consumerism or choose to live in really expensive parts of the country. We have choices if we have different priorities. (This of course doesn’t hold for single moms, poor families, etc., but it does hold for most 2-parent middle class families)

  • Kenny Johnson

    “I don’t see how Dutch women’s choice to spend time investing in interpersonal relationships or other activities they might see as meaningful is a waste of time. ”

    I don’t either, really, but I do think it’s unfair to the husbands. I really do. My wife works part time, but we have a 3 1/2 year old and might have another child sometime in the future. But when we didn’t have kids, my wife worked full time or she worked part time and went to college.

    I would be very upset if my wife worked 25 hours a week, but expected me to work 40 hours+ while she spent her days sipping wine and hanging out with friends and we didn’t have a child.

    And — by the way. My wife agrees with me.

  • megan

    I’m single and thus work out of necessity. The bills don’t get paid otherwise. However, I’ll admit I’m also very much driven by career success–more so than I would like to be.

    My single friends and I (some as career-driven as me, some not so much) have more than once discussed this topic: if you suddenly won or inherited $100 million, would you quit your job tomorrow? The explanation among those who answer yes is “I’d get bored otherwise.” Well, if all I did all day was go to the spa, I’d get bored too. But despite my career-focused tendencies, I’m always one who says I’d quit. I’d have no trouble filling up my days with activities other than going to the spa. I’d volunteer, I’d write, and yes–I’d take my friends out for coffee. Even now, I feel that sharing in a friend’s life, hearing what’s going on with her, offering support or advice, is some of the best “work” that I do.

    (As an aside, this question doesn’t really generate as much discussion with married friends, especially those with children, because their answer is always that they’d quit and focus on family.)

    I think it boils down to what drives you. For many or most Americans, they’re driven by success in the form of money and recognition. And our actions show that. And probably some of the Dutch women this author observes are driven by a purely selfish and non-industrious sense of pleasure. But I also think it says something about us that we automatically assume their leisure = laziness. I for one envy them. It’s a very real issue for me and just about every female I know. And for the record, I live in the Midwest.

  • rjs


    If I suddenly won or inherited $100 million I’d fund my research so I didn’t have to spend much of my time and mental anguish writing proposals – but I wouldn’t quit my job (despite being married with kids).

    But I think many of the comments above are dead on – this isn’t a gender issue; it is an issue of contentment and living within means.

  • I having to pop in and out. I try to respond to some of the above below. But I’m responding to the title “Dutch Women Don’t Get Depressed.” The thesis is that Dutch women are happier and above I see it suggested that is similarly true for Scandinavia.

    Here are suicide rates for women by for selected European countries world rank in ().

    Switzerland 11.7 (2)
    Belgium 9.5 (8)
    Finland 9.0 (13)
    France 9.0 (14)
    Sweden 8.3 (16)
    Austria 7.4 (21)
    Norway 6.0 (26)
    Denmark 5.7 (27)
    U.K. 5.4 (31)
    Netherlands 5.0 (33)
    Iceland 4.5 (39)
    USA 4.5 (40)
    Poland 4.4 (42)
    Germany 4.4 (44)
    Luxembourg 4.3 (46)
    Czech Republic 4.2 (47)
    Ireland 4.2 (48)
    Slovokia 3.4 (56)

    Again, I question the author’s premise about happiness for women being better in Europe.

  • smcknight

    If I won $100million …. that’s a clever way of asking what we’d do if we could what we want … and to see if it matches up to the Dutch way.

    Jurgen, thanks for commenting.

  • Robin

    If I won $100 million – 100 acre hobby farm in the country, big charitable donations, and healthy inheritances for my children, oh and my own woodshop.

  • Ann F-R

    I appreciate Michael Kruse’s stats. I suspect that the author’s criteria for depression are culturally based, and she’s missing areas where Dutch women are discontented.

    Another thing to note is that, IIRC, the tax code in The Netherlands and Belgium (and other EU members) strongly counteracts incentives to having a 2-earner household. Even holding down 2 jobs can cause one to end up w/ less income than 1 low-earning job. The emphasis we place on “getting ahead” is less important than security and a stable society among many Europeans.

  • Jason Lee

    Although not a measure of happiness (but neither is suicide), the way we organize work in the US seems to strain marriages in comparison to countries like the Netherlands:

    “A considerable body of research has established that high levels of work hours and working separate shifts (which is related to the level of hours of work) are associated with marital problems for both men and women, which obviously has a negative impact on overall quality of life (Presser 2000; Crouter, Bumpass, Head and McHale 2001; Gager and Sanchez 2003; Poortman 2005). The experience of work-family conflict is particularly great for dual earning couples who report long combined hours of work
    (Jacobs and Gerson 2004; Hill et al. 2006), and the United States has a high proportion of such couples in comparison with Western Europe in general, and the Netherlands in particular.” (p.687 from

  • Dana Ames

    I agree it is about contentment and living within means. In this country, though, it is also about having enough means to live. I live in a state with high housing costs and in a county with almost the lowest per capita income in the state, and consistently higher-than-average unemployment numbers, even when not in a recession. A single woman who does not have the kind of job skills necessary for “career work” could not possibly live on what she would earn from one job, even at $10 per hour, especially if she wanted health care; she would make too much money to qualify for aid, but not enough to be able to buy insurance. Children complicate the picture. Two “non-career” working parents with a family make do, but just barely, and only if one of them has health care coverage.

    For a whole lot of women, it’s just not about laziness. Poor women have always worked, much of the time to the detriment of their health. Ever see the movie “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”?

    My husband is a Federal employee; we have decent health insurance for about $300 per month, which somewhat compensates for the significantly lower pay scale compared to the private sector. I have always had to work at least part time, even before we had children, in order for our family to have basic necessities and maybe be able to take a week or two of vacation. I am blessed to have skills that enable me to have a part time job that pays very well and enables me to work at home. I’m among quite a small percentage so blessed. Solidly statistically middle-class, I have choices most women don’t have. Education helps, but is not a guarantee.

    Five weeks of paid vacation per year and cradle-to-grave education/health care/”social security” for what would be for me another 10% or so (as a self-employed person I have to withhold 15% automatically already, plus figuring about 10-15% for income and other misc taxes) is, in my view, a no-brainer. Especially if we can actually cut wasteful government spending (but I’m not holding my breath on that one) and will finally learn to stay out of land wars in Asia… (Vizzini the Dwarf, “The Princess Bride”)


  • rjs


    The book is better …

  • Jennifer


    I think part of it depends on who the “third shift” responsibilities fall on. If a wife worked full time, and was still the one who cooks and cleans at home, she’s doing MORE than her husband. And in most American houses, the wife still does the house-stuff, even if she works full time too.

    In our house, I have the main responsibility for cooking/cleaning which is fine with me because it offset by the fact that I can have 2:00 coffee with a friend if I want. I go to school (seminary) full time, but that’s still a pretty flexible schedule. The fact that my day has some margin in it means that I dont resent taking care of the house-stuff.

  • Jason Lee


    Percent of women who report being “very happy”:

    Netherlands = 43.6 %
    USA = 36.4 %

    See the 2005-2008 World Values Survey at U.Mich: http://www.wvsevsdb.com/wvs/WVSAnalize.jsp (It evens up some when you combine women who say “quite happy,” but Netherlands is still happy.) Btw, the WVS data show that the top happiest countries are European (e.g., Denmark is #1).

  • Dana Ames

    it always is!


  • #27 Michael

    I wonder if using suicide rates is somewhat misleading. I think statistics on depression would be a better measure since that is what the author was pointing to. Women tend to seek care from mental health care professionals more than men. I wonder if women in the US are being treated at rates higher than than Dutch women and thus avoiding the deep depression that could lead to suicide. Just thinking we may not be seeing the full picture by only looking at the extreme. My kids are burning the cookies so I can’t look up those stats right now but wanted to put that out there.

  • What I was indirectly challenging above was a) that women are happier in Europe and b) Netherlands/Europe model equals good, USA model equals bad. I’m was not making a case for the exceptional virtue of the American economy or demonizing Europe. I was indirectly trying to raise some issue. The most important issue being that I think the author’s conclusion is purely anecdotal. We need more data.

    Furthermore, happiness is a notoriously slippery concept. From one angle, ambitious people are not happy with their lives. They have ambition to be something other than they are now. So they are unhappy with their lives. However, if they are in a situation where they have the freedom to pursue a better life, then might say they are happy with their lives. It is exceedingly difficult to get at what people mean by questions that ask generically about happiness. And Jason #31 suicide is not a measure of happiness but it certainly is a measure of perceived well being.

    Think about your life from a discipleship standpoint. Am I happy with discipleship? If you ask that in terms of what I ultimately hope to be, then certainly not. If you ask in terms of where I’ve been and the way I see God working in me, then yes.

  • Wendy #37

    “I think statistics on depression would be a better measure since that is what the author was pointing to.”

    Such stats would help but I’m unaware of anyone who compiles such data buy country. Even here, it would be difficult to nail down what qualifies as depression in each country.

  • I forgot to add that in demography, things like life expectancy at birth and suicide rates are considered more reliable indicators of well-being than are generic surveys about happiness.

  • I think we need to access it in terms of priorities, Michael. I just think we are too driven in this country toward the bottom line, toward careers so that our families and even our walk with God can lose out. I would like to think over in the Netherlands they have their priorities better than us. But we are the world’s super power, and we have to pay for that, as well as toward making the American dream happen through the spending machine.

    But just my layperson’s thoughts.

  • Kenny Johnson

    @Jennifer #34,

    Depending on the size of the house, I doubt most homes have 20 hours of housework and cooking to be done, unless there are children. I agree that if both people work full time, the chores should be split evenly. But I don’t think being a stay at home wife (not mom) is a full time or even a part time job.

    But, in my house, I do the bulk of the cleaning and I work the full time job. My wife does more of the childcare stuff (even when I’m home), so there is some balance.

  • Karl

    Michael, I have some sympathy with the points you’re making but the fact that someone lives a long time and doesn’t take her own life somewhere along the way, doesn’t necessarily mean she’s happy.

    The Wendell Berry essay I linked above resulted after Berry mentioned that his wife types and edits his manuscripts, along with managing their home. There were some outraged letter-writers who suggested that his wife was a drudge, a slave, and should get out into the workforce and be productive and fulfilled. Berry’s essay “Feminism, the Body and the Machine” was his response.

    “Marriage, in what is evidently its most popular version, is now on the one hand an intimate “relationship” involving (ideally) two successful careerists in the same bed, and on the other hand a sort of private political system in which rights and interests must be constantly asserted and defended. Marriage, in other words, has now taken the form of divorce: a prolonged and impassioned negotiation as to how things shall be divided. During their understandably temporary association, the “married” couple will typically consume a large quantity of merchandise and a large portion of each other.

    “The modern household is the place where the consumptive couple do their consuming. Nothing productive is done there. Such work as is done there is done at the expense of the resident couple or family, and to the profit of suppliers of energy and household technology. For entertainment, the inmates consume television or purchase other consumable diversion elsewhere.

    “There are, however, still some married couples who understand themselves as belonging to their marriage, to each other, and to their children. What they have they have in common, and so, to them, helping each other does not seem merely to damage their ability to compete against each other. To them, “mine” is not so powerful or necessary a pronoun as “ours.”

    “This sort of marriage usually has at its heart a household that is to some extent productive. The couple, that is, makes around itself a household economy that involves the work of both wife and husband, that gives them a measure of economic independence and self-employment, a measure of freedom, as well as a common ground and a common satisfaction. Such a household economy may employ the disciplines and skills of housewifery, of carpentry and other trades of building and maintenance, of gardening and other branches of subsistence agriculture, and even of woodlot management and wood-cutting. It may also involve a “cottage industry” of some kind, such as a small literary enterprise.

    “It is obvious how much skill and industry either partner may put into such a household and what a good economic result such work may have, and yet it is a kind of work now frequently held in contempt. Men in general were the first to hold it in contempt as they departed from it for the sake of the professional salary or the hourly wage, and now it is held in contempt by such feminists as those who attacked my essay. Thus farm wives who help to run the kind of household economy that I have described are apt to be asked by feminists, and with great condescension, “But what do you do?” By this they invariably mean that there is something better to do than to make one’s marriage and household, and by better they invariably mean “employment outside the home.”

  • I run a small ministry and have four part-time staff, all women. All gave up corporate jobs, took significant pay cuts to work part-time. All of us had to choose to put family and call above money and material possessions. I really don’t think the four of us are all that unique. I think more women would make that choice if they had options and if our culture valued us the same as when we had the corporate incomes and titles. The hardest part for me was remembering that my value has nothing to do with my paycheck. Of course, many women in this county do not have an option to do what I did. They are single moms working multiple jobs just to make ends meet. I think this conversation is really only relevant to women with husbands who have descent incomes and health insurance.

  • Wow, Kenny. The way I’ve heard it, being a wife and mother staying at home is the equivalent of 2 full-time jobs. It’s a 24/7/365 job … and, frequently, a thankless one at that!

    check this article out: http://money.cnn.com/2006/05/03/pf/mothers_work/index.htm

    This is not a simple subject … so it would be good to not respond like it is. Alan K @ #12, thanks for that!

    On any given day, I can run the entire gammut of exhausted, elated, enthralled, empty, exasperated … but most of the time I am content.

    I have been learning, over the past two years, to be content even when I am depressed. I am learning to be content regardless of my situation — whether full or hungry, busy or bored, loved or ignored. It has been quite a journey. Wherever this path is leading, I’m content to walk with my hand in God’s.

  • Kenny Johnson


    I was speaking of non-child households. But I still call B.S. on their numbers.

    We have 1 child. There is no way it take 4.2 hours a week to do laundry if only 1 person was doing it. But the biggest problem with their stats is that it completely ignores the husband.

    I’m the only person in our house that takes out the trash or cleans the litter box. Ever. In 7 years of marriage. I do the dishes probably 75-80% of the time. My wife rarely cooks. We eat a lot of frozen prepared foods or quick things out of cans (like Chili). I do most of the cleaning as well (e.g. picking things up, putting dishes away, throwing stuff away, etc). I’m the only person who does out finances. Ever. I usually do my own laundry (90% of the time).

    My wife will freely admit all of the above. However, I think she contributes. She does more with my son. She gives him most of his baths, for example. In that I find balance.

    I think Salary.com’s figures are exaggerated and they completely discount the chores the husband/father does.

  • Kenny Johnson

    But just to clarify again. My complaint was about non-working or part time working childless wives.

  • Kenny and Peggy,

    I stayed home for several years after my girls were born and I don’t think simply adding up hours worked really says anything. When there is a little one in the home, they consume you. You can’t do anything without being interrupted 1,000 times. It would take me all day to do the laundry because of the feedings, diaper changes, and requests for hugs. There is also an emotional toll on women when they are home all day listening to Barney songs. I needed time with other women without kids…it was a matter of survival. That glass of wine at 2:00 was not leisure but self care. That was the only way I did not become one of Micheal’s stats.

  • Kenny Johnson


    Again, that’s why my criticism was about non-child homes. I completely understand the need for attention from little ones. I have one.

    From the article:
    “but 62 percent of women working part time in the Netherlands don’t have young children in the house, and mothers rarely increase their working hours even when their children leave home.”

  • Jason Lee

    I don’t think I can agree with you Michael. Suicide is certainly a hard indicator (except for the fact that some countries may have different standards for defining suicide/accident/murder), but there are plenty of scientific journals that use forced-choice “happiness” indicators to gauge societal and individual well-being. But all of this is really beside the point since none of these data actually compare working women across countries.

    I think the interesting thing is that, given the choice, Dutch women want to work less. In America we usually force people into all or nothing categories, make other things like health care and family formation depend on work, and if you’re a woman who wants to have a child and give good prenatal, antenatal care, and keep your child out of child care situations where they’re likely to get sick a lot … well good luck …its you against your employer … an employer that your whole family’s health insurance may be tether to. It just sure sounds like we put profit before people as Americans.

  • So many rabbit trails I’d like to pursue here and so little time. 😉

    The roles of men and women have been changing significantly over the past several generations and will continue to evolve for the foreseeable future. How the USA, the Netherlands, or anyone else handles it going to vary according to a number of cultural factors and economic contexts. The issues we are discussing here are usually less about good and bad, and more about trade-offs. Getting down to the details of various options nearly always means surrendering something we value for something else, not matter which option we take.

    The bigger issue I was trying to hint at above, is that very few of us, including most theologians, have sat down and processed, from a multi-disciplinary angle, what work/business is. I believe to we are to live cultural mandate God has given us in Genesis. We are to tend the garden, make it more fruitful. We are tenants on God’s land to work it and make more productive. We are to create abundance for ourselves and others through our labors and through trade. We are not here purely to seek our pleasure. The attempt find fulfillment either in excessive acquisitiveness or in unproductive leisure is idolatry. We were made for stewardship.

    I think we have to work from a considered notion of what work is before we can begin doing cross-cultural analysis.

  • Let me add a male experience to this conversation. A few years ago I dropped out of the workforce and spend nearly all my time in volunteer work and developing some projects that may or may not generate income one day. When I am meeting others, the inevitable question arises, “What do your do?” As a man, and particularly when talking with other men, not to have job title and an employer (or a business) is deadly to conversation. They don’t know how to relate and usually begin looking for an out to start a conversation with someone else. It is changing some, but for men in our society, without a job you are invisible. There are no alternatives to having a dedicated career if you want to matter.

    The women are talking about an imbalance between career and other more relational/family desires. It is fascinating to listen to women talk about decisions about career (whether to have one or not) as an angst driving factor. I don’t recall EVER being a part of conversation where a man was agonizing over whether he should have a career or chose another path without a career.

    So why is the issue of career and balance between other life factors a women’s issue? Notice that the astonishing thing for the suicide rates is not the difference between women in USA vs Netherlands. It is the remarkably lower rates for men in the Netherlands than for men in the USA. So why is that men seem to have such greater well-being in the Netherlands? Maybe they have options to seeing themselves only in terms of career?

    Answer the questions with a solid theology of work and look at men’s lives in the USA, and I think we might begin to find answers. Change people’s understanding of work and you set in motion a cascade of changes that impact the rest of society.

  • DRT

    I have one word of wisdom here. About 6 years ago when my (then) stay at home wife was whining about me getting a performance review (with glowing content) and my kids getting report cards (with high marks 🙂 ) I decided that she needed to get a report card too.

    Well, I came up with about 25 categories from cooking, to laundry, to, er, more personal matters and rated her on effort and quality of outcome.

    I would suggest that you do not do what I did in this case. While it does lead to rather intimate conversations about well-being, the view may not be worth the climb.

  • Jason Lee

    Michael, I think I agree with pretty much all of what you just wrote. A lot of this relates to status and where people draw significance from and how balanced this is. Work can be good, but it’s not God.

    I also agree that a solid theology of work and cultural production is sorely needed. I don’t think it has to always be paid labor force work or cultural production though. Also, I would want to keep work in close conversation with other activities and roles, such as being a family member.

    When it comes to approaching paid work, I don’t just see it coming down to individuals. You could have widespread change among individuals, but individuals may live in different political and economic environments that force people’s hand. In this way, I’d want theology to stay in dialogue with social conditions and constraints.

    But again, I think you’re making an important point and I mostly agree.

  • Jennifer


    I wonder if the 62% who dont have *young* children in the house, still have child-rearing responsibilities. My son is 9. I dont consider him a “young” child, but he takes every bit as much energy from me now as he did when he was 3…its just a different type of energy. I dont anticipate that his teen years will be any different.

  • DRT

    Jennifer, I think the cut off for young children is when you can punish them for not getting their bath instead of bathing them.

  • Jennifer

    DRT – LOL….Well, we’re long past “young” then.

  • Well, I’m a Dutch female living in the United States. I moved here when I was 16 years old. It was interesting reading the article and I planned to comment. However, after reading all the comments I think I’ll leave it alone. American males are weighing in pretty heavily on this one… I appreciate Jurgen’s comments – “dank je wel, Jurgen.”

    As for an American title? I propose: “American Women Don’t Give Up.” One thing I LOVE about this country is the indomitable optimism and resilience. Americans always get up, dust themselves off and try again. Awesome.

    Now, wouldn’t it have been nice to say something nice about us Dutch gals? 🙂

  • DRT

    Henriet! No Fair! Don’t let us American males deter you!

  • smcknight

    Henriet, I thought the article was speaking to the virtuous resistance of Dutch women.

  • #41 assess, not access

    I appreciate your point and how you’ve made it many times on this blog, Michael. My push back here is simply that Mammon is considered a problem in scripture as well as Jesus saying a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of their possessions. And let’s add the problem of the Laodicean church.

    Being wealthy with a career is most certainly going to be the lot of many a faithful Christian. So not a problem there. We most certainly are to be giving ourselves fully to labor in the Lord, which includes all kinds of various works. But all within seeking first God’s kingdom.

    The Netherlands don’t do well in any of this I would think. But maybe within common grace they do better than Americans in some ways.

    (I’m sure I’m considered simplistic by some on this blog, maybe many. But the prophetic word cuts in some cases, if indeed it is God’s word. I’m sure the prophets were often considered the same, though my word is not on par with them.)

  • Dottie

    I lived in Holland for 15 years. My daughter married a Dutch citizen and she and her husband and my granddaughter live in a village. The Dutch I knew when I lived there, both men & women, were more child oriented, more family oriented than we Americans. Men work hard; Women work hard. When work, whether paid or unpaid was done, then it was done. The weekends were times of rest, fun and recreation. The Dutch love ‘gezeligheid’ an almost untranslatable word, which has to do with the warmth of a home, the coziness, the welcoming atmosphere, the ease of relationships, and much emphasis was placed on coffee times/tea times, birthday parties, holidays. Men in Holland can work part time also. When my granddaughter was adopted, both my daughter and son-in-law cut their working hours so that my granddaughter would always have a parent around…their pay was less, but they did so without losing benefits. the Dutch system simply does not punish those who wish to spend more time with family. Most Dutch can lay their work aside when they leave their work place. Americans don’t do as well in that area. People work to live; they do not live to work. I’ve rambled on, but there is much to say about putting family first, spending time with friends, walking or biking in the forest or near the meadows.

  • Sarah C

    I’ll try to bump up the diversity on this conversation, as an American “career” woman. There are so many layers here.

    I work in an challenging, male-dominated field – computer engineering. I work for several reasons:

    1. Intellectual challenge and creativity
    2. To contribute to the financial stability of my family (and of myself before I was married)
    3. Health care
    4. To be able to afford travel (but not necessarily stuff)
    5. To have deep collaborative time with people from other faiths and cultures.

    Even if #2, #3 and #4 were not factors (if I was independently wealthy or if the government assured me relative security), I would still work for reasons #1 and #5. Though, in that case, I might have a lot less anxiety about job security and career growth. I might also work fewer hours and spend more time in relationships and volunteering.

    I have traveled extensively in Europe, and I do find the culture to line up more with my values. I aspire to live there at some point. I feel that having the necessities of life taken care of frees people to have richer, less harried lives. I’m completely generalizing…but it seems that family, community, contentment and maintaining life within means and at a sustainable pace are all part of life in Europe, and that appeals to me. They pay only 6% more taxes than I do (debatable whether it is higher at all when you factor state taxes and sales taxes) and get higher education, health care, long vacation, long family leave, well-maintained roads, better Internet infrastructure, better cell phone infrastructure, lower mortgage rates, impressive public transportation, and retirement all-inclusive. And, artisans are valued there – whether you make bread, woodwork or computer programs.

    I think I would be happier, too, with this arrangement. But, I would still work for reasons #1 and #5 listed above. I would still contribute to my family and society (the blessing of work) without feeling like my security hangs in the balance and that I must work ever harder to maintain it (the curse of work).

  • Christine

    Well, many people in this country don’t have the luxury of two people contributing to family income. As a single parent, with a good job, I find it very hard to save for the future or even save for the household repairs that are desperately needed. It would be tremendous to have a second income to help with that!

    I’m lucky to work in a field that I love, but that said, if I were to win the lottery, I’d quit in a nano second. I’d relish the extra time with my child and the opportunity to be involved in projects and ministry in different ways. Yes, there is job satisfaction, intellectual stimulation, the realization that what I’m doing makes a difference, BUT . . . I’m also weary and the chance to take a bit of an early retirement would be so beneficial to my child’s life and to my own.

    Wish we’d heard from more women on this topic!