The fact that natural population growth is negative this year is mainly due to the aging population and the ever-decreasing birth rate in the Netherlands.
According to Statistics Netherlands (CBS), 168,000 children will be born in the Netherlands in 2022. The last time so few babies were born in a year was in 1919, when 164,000 children were born.
It should be noted, however, that the total Dutch population was only 6.68 million in 1919, more than 11 million fewer than now. Since the 1950s, the number of births and deaths has continued to converge, as can be seen here:
According to Jan Latten, emeritus professor of demography at the University of Amsterdam, the decline is indicative of a trend that has already started. “We’ve had several quarters of natural contraction in recent years, but this is the first time that the numbers are negative for an entire year,” he says.
The fact that people are having fewer children has various causes, such as economic uncertainty and the tight housing market. “On top of that insecurity comes the climate crisis that people are worried about,” says Latten. Those concerns lead to a lower birth rate.
In itself, natural population decline need not be a problem, says Leo Lucassen. He is professor of migration history at Leiden University and director of the International Institute of Social History. “This development would be a problem if there were no immigration. Then there would be fewer and fewer people to run industry and healthcare, for example.”
That scenario is not in sight. The Dutch population is actually growing due to immigration: last year the number of inhabitants increased almost twice as fast as the year before. By far the most immigrants last year came from Ukraine, followed by Syria, Turkey, India and Poland.
According to Jan Latten, natural population decline can cause problems in the long run if it happens too suddenly and too sharply. “If that is met with just immigration, it leads to a disruption in society, then you have to deal with an integration problem.”
Lucassen disagrees. “Of course migration can cause conflicts,” he says. “But the composition of the population has changed a lot in the past half century due to the family reunification of guest workers, people from Suriname and the Dutch East Indies. The Netherlands is still a rich country with a thriving economy, our society has not become a mess.”
According to Lucassen, this changing composition of the population has not had any serious consequences for society. “In fact, the figures on the integration of migrants, including groups where integration was initially difficult, show positive trends,” he says. “Migrants are less represented in crime and are increasingly better educated.”
Latten believes that the government should focus on combating an ever-lower birth rate. “It is of course a free choice to have children, and it should remain so,” he says. But according to him, the state should help ‘for example by making childcare free for working parents’.
According to Lucassen, such an approach does not help. “Having a child is just very expensive. It’s because of a few structural features of our society. You can give premiums, but in the end it won’t help much,” he says.
Lucassen thinks it is wiser to focus on a smarter immigration policy: “We have to think more proactively. Don’t close the borders, but look at what we need in terms of immigration.” In addition, according to Lucassen, the aging population can be accommodated by automation, robotisation, and by getting more people who are not currently working to work.”