Why Dutch women don't get depressed

Why Dutch women don't get depressed

According to writers and researchers, Dutch women don't get depressed – but what’s their secret to happiness? We also look at how Singapore’s pursuit of happiness is lagging a bit behind.

"We don't know how to dress and we are not very hospitable - if you come round to our house at dinnertime you get sent away."

These are the words of Dutch psychologist and journalist Ellen de Bruin. You might think that she’s suggesting Dutch women are miserable - but she’s not. In actual fact, de Bruin is responsible for publishing a book called ‘Why Dutch Women Don’t Get Depressed’, and thinks Dutch females are among the happiest in the world.

She argues that even though Dutch women don’t necessarily possess great hospitality skills or know a lot about fashion, they are very happy. In fact, she believes that glamour, hospitality and charm aren't important when considering the secret to happiness.

Is freedom the secret to happiness?

According to de Bruin, the secret to why most Dutch women avoid depression, is personal freedom.

“Personal choice is key: in the Netherlands people are free to choose their life partners, their religion, their sexuality, we are free to use soft drugs here, we can pretty much say anything we like. The Netherlands is a very free country,” she explained.

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These observations were made after de Bruin conducted many interviews with historians, psychologists, fashion designers, shoppers, magazine editors and ordinary Dutch women. Her qualitative findings are also supported by quantitative research, conducted by Erasmus University in Rotterdam. In a study, the Dutch scored 7.5/10 for life satisfaction.

Singapore isn't lagging behind

According to Erasmus University study, although Singapore was ranked the 90th happiest nation in the world (out of 151 countries) in the ‘Happy Planet Index’ publication (watch video below) – Singapore has been named one of the 25 happiest nations in the world, and the happiest in Asia in the 2015 World Happines Report.

Take a look at the ‘Project Happy Singapore’ video below:

Subsequently, Singapore was ranked ‘The happiest Asian nation online’, by a study from The Eden Strategy Institute. This looked at sentiments posted online, across various media platforms. It found that Singapore was number one in Asia for happiness.

Singapore - take note

It is difficult decide which of these contrasting findings we should listen to. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too worried when it comes to the overall happiness of the nation. Saying that, we can still use Dutch women as a shining example. Going back to de Bruin reference to ‘personal freedoms’, Singapore can hardly claim to be truly free on matters concerning life partners, sexuality and speech – all of which de Bruin insists improves Dutch women’s happiness.

Dutch women don't get depressed, but they also don’t work.

This could well be another secret to happiness in Holland. According to statistics, most Dutch women don’t engage in full time work, and most don’t want to either. 68% of Dutch women work part-time, which is about 25 hours per week.

How about Dutch men you ask?

More than 50% of the Dutch population work part time. In comparison, on average only 20% of working-age people in EU member states works part time (8.7% of men and 32.2% of women). In the Netherlands, 26.8% of men and 76.6% of women work less than 36 hours per week. This just goes to show the general population tend to worry less, having more time to spend with families.

The very nature of Dutch society means that women often don’t need to work full time. They generally receive enough financial support either from their own family, the family they marry into, or both. This gives women greater control of balancing their work and family life. A greater emphasis on family life may well be a key reason as to why Dutch women avoid depression.


Secret to happiness Secret to happiness - a message in Bhutan, one of the happiest countries in the world

The reason for popularity of working part-time

Dutch women were relative latecomers to the labour market because few men had to leave to fight in the world wars of the 20th century, resulting in women being dismissed for labour work in factories as opposed to America and Britain. Thanks to the country's wealth, a dual income was often not a necessity for a comfortable life.

Today, women in the Netherlands have a high labour-force participation rate. However, the Netherlands’ record for getting women into top management roles is dire. The prevalence of part-time work seems to play a role: once you strip out part-timers, women make it into management roles nearly as often as men, according to the CBS (the main statistics agency in the Netherlands) although that doesn't include top management. The Dutch government has said that by next year 30% of executive board positions should be held by women.

Sacrificing power for happiness

The male-female employment divide in Holland has also had its fair share of criticism, despite being linked with increased happiness. Writer and economist Helen Mees, who runs an organisation called ‘Women on Top’, said: “I think highly educated women have a moral obligation to take top positions, to set an example by their choices.”

“When women just stay at home or work part-time, they don’t reach the top, and they set bad examples for their daughters and daughters’ daughters,” she added.

The secret to happiness

What sets aside Dutch women from others in the world, is the fact that they experience great personal freedoms, whilst also not being pressured to work. As to which of these factors is most influential in creating happiness, it’s still unclear. Only a true Dutch woman can fully understand what makes her smile.

For more info about depression, including what to look out for and how it can be treated, we suggest you take a look at the following articles:

Post natal depression 

Depression during pregnancy 

Parent’s depression linked with stress 

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Written by

Wafa Marican

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