Financial self-reliance of women in the care sector in the Netherlands
Elisa Zondervan, CNV Connectief

The Netherlands has 9.2 million employees.[1] Almost half of these employees, 4.4 million, work part-time. This gives the Netherlands the highest part-time percentage in Europe of 46.8%.[2] The part-time percentage among women is even higher. Currently, 74% of Dutch women work part-time.[3] As a result, Dutch women work an average of 27 hours, whereas the Western European average is 31 hours.[4]

In addition to the high part-time percentage among women, women in the Netherlands are also strongly represented in certain sectors, also called ‘women’s sectors’. The care sector belongs to one of these ‘women’s sectors’. Of the 900,000 women working in care, more than 540,000 work less than 25 hours workweek.[5] Due to these limited contracts, women in care form a financially vulnerable group. Figures show that 63,8% of Dutch women are financially self-reliant and earn at least the minimum level of welfare.[6] However, recent research by CNV shows that, in practice, for only 2% this is sufficient income to meet their financial needs.

CNV Cure & Care has therefore named the financial self-reliance of women in care as one of its priorities. This article will look at the reasons why women work part-time, at the causes for this financial dependency and at possible solutions to protect the financial position of women in care and stimulate financial self-reliance.

Why do women in care work part-time?

Work related reasons

From the employee’s perspective the lack of support on fulltime contracts is the first reason why healthcare professionals work part-time. In parallel the schedules within healthcare are a major limitation and the work pressure in healthcare is high and sometimes even too high. Some healthcare professionals even choose to not extent their working hours because of the work pressure. Especially in hospitals, youth care and child care employees experience a very high work pressure. More than half of the employees have to deal with this high work pressure, according to the Healthcare and Welfare Employee Survey of Statistics Netherlands (CBS).[9]

The last work related reason is the lack of clarity about the short term financial consequences of longer working hours. For healthcare professionals, it is often unclear what a higher number of hours will ultimately yield them financially. For example, the costs of childcare can be increased and the increase in gross income can lead to a decrease in net income.[10] At the same time many healthcare professionals do not realize that working part-time for the longer term has a negative financial impact on their pension.[11]

The absence of clarity about the short and long term financial consequences, the schedules and the high workload play a significant role in the work related reasons to work part-time.

Reasons related to the private life of women working in care

Besides the work related reasons the desire for the women in care to work part-time is often related to the combination of work, children and informal care. The lack of control over their working hours makes it difficult for healthcare professionals to combine their private life with their working life. In addition, research shows that women more often take care of children and informal care. Fifty-seven percent of Dutch women cited unpaid caring, housework and informal care as the main reason for working part-time, compared to 27% of men.[12]

Causes of financial dependence

However, the unequal distribution of caring tasks raises a much broader social cause, namely social views on the division of roles between men and women.[13] The choice of Dutch women in care to work part-time is therefore partly influenced by the social views that determine what is socially desirable. For example, 98% of Dutch people find it acceptable that women do paid work, but 80% thinks that mothers of non-school-aged children should preferably work three days a week or less.[14]

In addition to the social views, the unequal distribution across the various sectors also plays a role. Women are over-represented in sectors such as education and care where a lot of work is done part-time; two factors that appear to reinforce each other. However, these ‘women’s sectors’ are not unique to the Netherlands. Women’s sectors are also present in other Western European countries. The percentage of women working in care in Western Europe is 80%. Nonetheless, the extremely high frequency of which Dutch women in care work part-time is unique.  Whereas the percentage in the Netherlands is 70%, the percentage in other countries is often under 40%.[15] This means that other Western European women working in care are more likely to be financially self-reliance.

The foregoing shows that the social view and part-time work of women plays a crucial role in the financial self-sufficiency of women working in care.


Increase paid work

The change on the employer and employee’s side is the increase of paid work. If women in care work more paid hours, they enable themselves to become financially self-reliant. An additional advantage is that a significant part of the Dutch personnel shortages in the care sector could be solved if everyone in the care sector worked one more hour.[16] CNV Cure & Care therefore advocates the following solutions: [17]

– Stimulate a 30-hour working week for both men and women to promote equal opportunities between men and women and to ensure a better (private) balance between men and women.

– Invest in the care tasks at home (e.g.: paid care leave, investing in childcare and expanding partner leave (up to a minimum of 16 weeks));

– Organize the right tax incentives to make it financially attractive to work more hours;

– Facilitate the exchange of personnel. There are still too many tax obstacles that limit this exchange.[18]

Social views

– More attention to social standards around labour and the financial risks of part-time work within training programs for healthcare professionals;

– A pilot in which experiments are carried out with an informative role for consulting agencies/child care around the division of labour and care of young parents;

– More attention for culturally determined norms, prejudices and other obstructive thoughts that counteract the equal participation of men and women in the labour market during employment programs.


In conclusion, the self-reliance of women in care depends mostly on the balance between paid and unpaid work. The paid work must increase due to improved schedules, less work pressure and more working hours per week. The unpaid work can decrease if the private balance between men and women and the social views on the role of women change. Within CNV Cure & Care varies activities have already been carried out on this subject. If you would like to know more about this topic or about our work, please feel free to send an email to:

[1] CBS, Dashboard labour force, 2020

[2] Part-time employment rate, Eurostate, 2020.

[3] McKinsey Global Institute, ‘The value of more equality between men and women in the Dutch labour market’, p. 10.

[4] Mean weekly hours actually worked per employed person by seks and economic activity, ILO, 2019

[5]Ministry of Public health Welfare and Sports, reporting committee working in health care 2019: ‘conservation and innovation as a task’, p. 14.

[6] Emancipation monitor 2020.

[7] Social Economic Council, ‘Care for the future’ 2020, p. 157. 


[9] National Working Conditions Survey CBS 2020.

[10] Social Economic Council, ‘Care for the future’ 2020, p. 184.

[11]Social Economic Council, ‘Care for the future’ 2020, p. 157-158.

[12] McKinsey Global Institute, ‘The value of more equality between men and women in the Dutch labour market’, p. 17.

[13] Social Economic Council, ‘Care for the future’ 2020, p. 184.

[14] Towards a better future for women and work, Gallup & ILO, 2017; Emancipation monitor 2020.

[15] McKinsey Global Institute, ‘The value of more equality between men and women in the Dutch labour market’, p. 16.

[16] Ministry of Public health Welfare and Sports, reporting committee working in health care 2019: ‘conservation and innovation as a task’, p. 13.

[17] Letter to the House of Representatives CNV Cure & Care and Diversion 2018. 

[18] CNV Cure & Care has already started this project.

[19] Letter to the House of Representatives CNV Cure & Care and Diversion 2018.

This project is mainly financed by funds from the European Union


© 2019 CESI