National emigration figures for 1999 to 2006 show that men are twice as likely to emigrate as women, and it is mostly the young (under 30) who emigrate. Furthermore, it is the Dutch in the top decile of the income distribution who are most likely to emigrate. Sixty-nine percent of Dutch emigrants choose a European destination. It should not be a surprise that most emigrants move to one of the neighbouring countries Germany and Belgium. However, it is well established that this applies mainly to cross-border migration, where people live just across the border and still work in the Netherlands. High housing and land prices in the Netherlands drive many to move to Belgium or Germany, which offer spacious houses that are almost unaffordable for middle-income households in the Netherlands. When Belgium and Germany are left out of the equation, 31% of emigrants are headed to European destinations. The US and Canada account for another 15%.Alas but why?
Examining the determinants of emigration intentions and subsequent actions reveals a clear picture. The determinants may classified into two groups: (a) the individual characteristics that one would expect to be relevant if emigration were a matter of private gains (like age, human capital, health, networks, psychological personality characteristics) and (b) the provision and perceived quality of the public domain of life in the Netherlands. Every individual depends on the actions and solidarity of others and perhaps more so in a crowded country such as the Netherlands which is also known for its extensive welfare state. The following elements were determined – based on a statistical analysis – to represent the public domain: (1) the Dutch welfare state and institutions which provide the public goods and services (law and order, social security, education, health care); (2) the quality of the public space (noise pollution, space, nature, crowdedness); and (3) the evaluation of social problems addressed by the government, like crime, pollution, and ethnic tensions.In other words, a poor quality of life – and this is THE NETHERLANDS we’re talking about, possibly the most interventionist nanny state in existence. Deep intervention in social matters seems to show that those with a latent anger and an expectation that the rest of the population is structured to serve their aesthetic needs stick with it.
The results of our study reveal that both the private and the public domain of life are important to understanding emigration from a high-income country like the Netherlands. The more negative one is about the public domain, the more likely it is that one will actually emigrate (see Figure 1). Of course, the Dutch who stayed are also negative about large parts of the public domain, but emigrants (“movers” and “dreamers”, i.e. those who intended to emigrate but have not yet) are far more negative than those staying behind.1 The biggest difference between emigrants and those staying behind is the evaluation of the quality of public space. Without knowing how people feel about the quality of the public domain, large-scale emigration would remain a mystery.
They go on to note that they are the more ambitious people who originate in the middle income and lower middle income brackets – those more likely to spur innovation. That they are largely male and in their prime also has a prospect of hitting the future in other ways. If social, academic, and economic activity are not robustly started or maintained by the bright ones of parenting age, what does that hold for a society’s evolution? In relative terms, not as much as it could, and what energy it does have will be a result of initiation, programming, funding, or managing by government, much as government supported art and music foundations are slowly overwhelming what used to be a private matter or the result of non-government-funded symphonies, operas, and the like.
Sooner or later, if ex-migration of the most dynamic isn’t matched by inward migration of the people with the same energy and commitment to the place, It thins out the herd, and leaves the culture on a trend toward dullness, inaction, selfishness, or disconnection from the idea that we all have a personal obligation to contribute our effort to make a good society. In its’ place goes government managed guidelines, rules, programs, etal – truly the stuff of dreams, non?
Our study suggests that the quality of the public domain is an important part of quality of life, and those Dutch who have moved are implicitly casting a vote of no confidence in those who govern the nation. This lesson may also be of some relevance to other European countries where emigration has taken off and crowdedness has become a concern. For example, England’s population density is similar to that of the Netherlands (394 inhabitants per square kilometre), and British surveys seem to register the same type of dissatisfaction witnessed in the Netherlands.Which is hard to believe given that one of the big criticism Europeans harbor for the US, Canada, Australia, etc., is the lower apparent quality of things like parks, streets, the artfulness or otherwise of public structures. For the Dutch especially this doesn’t hold, especially for those moving to places that are more angry and cramped like greater London.
But like we often see with surveys, the questions only address the questions asked, and that the way those questions were asked hint at a subtext. Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s the feeling of being fenced in, or the surprising unsociability of a place still characterized as libertine. Maybe what’s angry and cramped in this case is entirely social. When in the NETHERLANDS 30% of those who leave cite the health care system (of supposed global envy) as one of many reasons, you know that it’s isn’t just a matter of “doing more of it” to make them happy.
In any event, a loss of that sort can’t be sustained forever.