Just like all other European countries, the Netherlands has experienced a considerable
decline in fertility. The decline, however, is not as sharp as in most other parts of
Europe. While especially Southern and Central Eastern Europe is faced with a persistent and pronounced drop in the TPFR to a current level well below 1.5, the decline of the Dutch TPFR came to a halt and has even slightly risen since 1995. Consequently, the Netherlands now has one of the highest fertility rates in Europe: 1.73 children per woman. The business cycle, changes in the Dutch population structure due to immigration, and postponement of child bearing are some of the factors that have affected the development of the TPFR. It is likely that the Dutch TPFR will rise rather than decrease in the near future, given the recent economic upturn, increasing numbers of second generation migrant women at childbearing ages, comparatively high fertility rates, and the fact that the decline in fertility rates at younger ages has come to an end. Dutch women have one of the highest ages at first childbirth in the world: 28.9 years in 2004. This is not so much due to low fertility rates at young ages. Rather it is the result of the relatively high fertility rates of women in their 30s. In addition, the Netherlands has one of the most liberal attitudes towards abortion, contraception, and sexuality worldwide. Access to abortion has never been severely restricted, there is a widespread availability of reliable contraceptives, and the intercourse rate at young ages is relatively high. However, since reliable methods of birth control are used widely, the Netherlands has one of the lowest abortion and teenage pregnancy rates in the Western world. Therefore, childbearing in the Netherlands has increasingly become more salient among women in their late 20s and early 30s.
The Dutch government has never taken pronatalist steps but it has implemented family policies, as did other European countries. Besides financial support to families, the measures are especially oriented towards enabling couples to combine family formation with a paid job. The emphasis, however, is on women’s employment rather than on timulating fertility. The expansion of part-time and flexible jobs and the improvement of child care regulations have encouraged women to participate in the labor market, a mode that perfectly fits the “Poldermodel Society”. Considering the relatively high level of fertility and the substantial rise in women’s labor-force participation, the so-called family-friendly employment policy seems to have had its desired effect.
Despite the growing labor-force participation of Dutch women, equality along gender lines is far from optimal. Whereas most Dutch men continue to work full-time after the birth of their first child, the overwhelming majority of Dutch women exchange their full-time job for a part-time job in order to alleviate the double burden; most of the household and child care tasks are still mostly done by women, irrespective of the number of working hours. Therefore, the next major challenge is to entice men to take more child care responsibilities without this having a negative effect on fertility.