In the Netherlands there is a structural inequality between social classes. This is stated by the Social and Cultural Planning Office (SCP) in the report Contemporary inequality. To tackle this, we need to look beyond rich versus poor, the researchers say.
In the study, the planning office not only looked at matters such as work, income and education, but also at social networks, health and self-confidence, for example.
“Inequality of opportunity is broader than people think. It’s not just about economic differences such as wealth, income and level of education,” says Cok Vrooman, researcher at SCP. “It’s also about who you know: your social network, where you fit in and who you are: your so-called personal capital. That is a combination of your health and attractiveness.”
1 in six Dutch people are lagging behind
This is not the first time that the SCP has mapped out inequality. The Verschil in Nederland report was published in 2014, which also found that the differences are large. And in 2021, the gap turned out not to have narrowed.
The planning office distinguishes seven social classes. The ‘working upper class’ (20 percent of the population), the ‘younger with opportunities’ (9 percent), the ‘rent-renting upper class’ (12 percent), the ‘working middle group’ (25 percent), the ‘low-educated pensioners’ (18 percent), the ‘insecure workers’ (10 percent) and the vulnerable ‘precariat’ (6 percent).
The two groups at the bottom, 1 in 6 people, lag behind the rest in every respect, says Vrooman. “People in the ‘precariat’ are on average 65 years old. As a result, it makes little sense for that group to focus very heavily on labor participation. That is not feasible for most people and that is no longer expected of them.”
The group of insecure workers is on average 44 years old, says Vrooman. “That group also lags behind in many respects, for example, these people are digitally skilled, which the precariat is not at all. They can handle a computer and that is an important tool for arranging things.”
According to the SCP, underprivileged groups have fewer opportunities, give their lives a lower grade, have less confidence in each other, the politicians and the government and more often fail to attend elections. The differences can put pressure on social cohesion in our society, the planning office writes.
We need to look specifically at the shortages that occur in the seven social classes, says Vrooman. By having a clear picture of this, the government can help in two respects, he says. “You can recognize that inequality in the Netherlands is structural with clearly distinguishable classes. That is something different than if you only look at rich versus poor.”
Turning economic knobs
It is also important to keep an eye on what happens during crucial transitions in life, which can be taken into account in policy. “So what happens when you go through the school system, what happens when you enter the job market, start looking for a partner, what happens when you go through the job market and deal with health inequalities?”
This gives the government more tools, says Vrooman. “It is not an easy task for the government to do something about this. We also say that in the report, but I think there are sufficient starting points to look at inequality in this way. That could well be a better way are then turning the economic knobs, as we are often inclined to do now.”
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