In one of the happiest places on the Earth, more people work part-time

Champions of the part-time work week.
Champions of the part-time work week.
Image: Reuters/Issei Kato
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By most accounts, The Netherlands is one of the best places in the world to live. People are relatively wealthy, there are ample government social benefits, and it consistently ranks as one of the happiest countries on earth.

The Dutch also keep a pointedly less time-intensive work schedule than other Western nations. In fact, The Economist reports, more than half of all Dutch workers are employed part-time—26.8% of men and 76.6% of women work less than 36 hours per week. In the rest of the EU, around 20% of workers are part-time, with 8.7% of men and 32.2% of women working short schedules. In the-US, 18.9% of workers are part-time: 12.6% of men, and 25.8% of women.

The Netherlands reached this point through a convergence of modern and traditional values. For the most part, women did not enter the workforce until the 1980s, and when they did, they often worked part-time.

In 2000, a law was passed guaranteeing both men and women the right to request that a job have relaxed hours. Since then, the so-called “daddy day” (one day a week to tend to home responsibilities) has become more prevalent. And in addition to the male part-time workers, another 9% of men cram a full-time schedule into four workdays.

Some argue that the acceptability of part-time work has a tangible effect on Dutch happiness—particularly on that of women. In many countries, the gap in full-time employment and income between men and women is seen as a problem. But not so in The Netherlands, as Jessica Olien wrote in a 2010 column for Slate:

Dutch women could be considered extremely progressive when compared with most other women in the world—they have enviable reproductive rights and rates of political participation. But they are often responsible for only a small portion of the family income—25 percent of Dutch women do not even make enough money to be considered financially independent. The gap in pay between genders is among the highest in Europe, but because women are working only part time, this is not fodder for gender wars. Instead, women are more concerned with protecting their right to part-time work. In 2000, a law was passed mandating that women have the right to cut back hours at their jobs without repercussions from employers.