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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Population: demographic situation, languages and religions


1.Political, social and economic background and trends

1.3Population: demographic situation, languages and religions

Last update: 27 November 2023


Demographic situation

On 15 September 2016, the Netherlands has a population of almost 17 million, living in an area of approximately 41.528 km2 (33.881 km2 land). The population density is 502 people per km2. In the Netherlands, there are about 3.7 million (3.752.291) citizens with a migration background (22% of the total population).

The methodology for defining people with a migration background is determined by the country of birth of the parents:

  • A person with a Dutch background is defined as a person with both parents born in the Netherlands.
  • A person with a migration background is defined as a person of which a at least one parent is born abroad.

In the Netherlands, just over one-third (34,8%) of the population is aged between 40 and 65 years old. The table below gives an image of the age distribution of the population in the Netherlands.

Age distribution of the population of the Netherlands

Population by age group 2005 2010 2013 2015 2016 2022
In %            
Under 20 years 24.5 23.7 23.1 22.7 22.5 21.2
20 to 39 years  27.4 25.3 24.6 24.5 24.5 25.5
40 to 64 years  34.1 35.7 35.5 35.1 34.8 33.2
65 to 79 years  10.5 11.4 12.6 13.4 13.8 15.2
80 years or older   3.5   3.9   4.2 4.3 4.4 4.9
In number of persons              
Total 16.305.526 16.574.989 16.778.025 16.900.726 16.979.120 17 590 672  
Under 20 years   3.987.957   3.928.334   3.870.423  3.828.059 3.818.499 3 737 817
20 to 39 years   4.467.783   4.192.772   4.119.832 4.134.447 4.163.702 4 487 841
40 to 64 years   5.561.116   5.915.555   5.963.523 5.963.523 5.911.611 5 839 561
65 to 79 years   1.715.097   1.890.334   2.121.391 2.121.391 2.336.560 2 672 346
80 years or older      573.573      573.573      702.856 734.976 748.748 853 107

Source: CBS   Employment- and  unemployment rates

  • The unemployment rates decreased in the past three months with 13 thousand per month and amounted in October to 502 thousand, i.e. 5,6% of the working population (2016)
  • The rates of decline from early summer of 2016 continues also in autumn. This is announced by CBS. A the end of October, UWV counted 420 thousand unemployment benefits.
  • The total number of people on the labour market has increased just as in the summer. This means that the number of employed people increases more than the unemployment decreases. People aged 45+ are more likely to get back at work.

Source: CBS

Migration and immigration

On January 1, 2016 , 12,3% of the residents in the Netherlands were non-western, and 9,8% had a western background. Almost half of the persons with a non-western background is born in the Netherlands and belongs therefore to the second generation. For those with a Turkish or Moroccan background, it is even already more than half. However, the second generation is still very young. Whereas the first generation is just as old on average as persons with a Dutch background (43 years), the non-western generation is 18 years old (on average).

Persons with different migration backgrounds do not live equally distributed across the Netherlands. For instance, persons with a non-western background live especially (close to) the four big cities. In Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague more than 30 percent of the residents has a non-western background.

The largest group non-western immigrants are formed by Turks (397.471), closely followed by Moroccans (385.761) and Surinamers (349.002). After the Dutch Antilles and Aruba (150.981) the number of other countries of origin decreases rapidly.






'In 'numbers




















Antilles & Aruba





Other, non-western





Source: CBS


  • In the third class of secondary education, 52% of the pupils with a Dutch background goes to VMBO, 25% to HAVO and 23% to VWO.
  • Pupils with a Turkish or Moroccan background relatively often  follow VMBO, around three quarter of the pupils, and follow less often VWO.
  • In the third year of secondary education, 65% of the pupils with a Surinam and 69% of the pupils with an Antillean background followed VMBO.
  • Within VMBO, pupils with a non-western background follow relatively more often lower levels in education than pupils with a Dutch background.



Dutch is the official language in the Netherlands. In addition, the Frisian language is accredited as the second official language in the province Fryslân.


  • Frisian and Dutch are the official languages in the province Fryslân.  Frisian citizens have the right to use their own languae (Dutch or Frisian). For example in the courtroom or in contact with the municipality. This  is regulated in the Law use Frisian language.
  • The law also determined how the legal relations administers the oath or affirmation in Frisian. And how Frisian municipalities set up rules and a policy plan for the use of the Frisian language. 
  • Frisian is a standardised language. The province, in consultation with the Fryske Akademy determines the spelling of Frisian.

Lowlands Saxon and Limburger

Lowlands Saxon (in 1996)  and Limburger (in 1997) are recognised as regional languages under the European Charter. Through this recognition, the provinces and municipalities concerned can set their own policy for these regional languages. This encourages the cultural heritage of the Netherlands. For example, they give grants to local drama clubs. Or to regional broadcasters that broadcast partly in these languages.

Limburger and Lowlands Saxon are not standardised languages. For instance, Lowlands Saxon has different variants. Including Gronings, Drenths and Twents.

Jiddisj and the languages of Roma an Sinti

Jiddisj and Sinti-Romanes are recognised as non-territorial languages in 1996 by the Netherlands. The speakers of these languages live across the Netherlands but also in other European countries. For example, Sinti and Roma people also live in our neighbourhood countries.

Languages and education

Since 1 January 2016 it is possible for schools in primary education to give up to 15% of their lessons in another language. Schools do not just offer the subject English, but also the instruction of other subjects in English. Teachers can give their courses like physical education and history for example in English. Bilingual Primary Education (TPO) is used as a test on different schools in primary education. With these tests, they give 30- 50 percent of their lessons in English from the first year - onwards. Consequently, children will learn better how to speak English from a very early age. This pilot project will last untill 2019.

It is regulated that in higher education and adult education and vocational education that education is given in Dutch and that examinations are held in Dutch. Education is provided in Dutch, except:

  • in the case of language education;
  • in the case of guest lectures by foreign-language lecturers, or;
  • if the specific nature, organisation, or quality of the programme, or the origin of the students require otherwise.



Freedom of religion is enshrined in the constitution. In the Netherlands, there is a separation of church and state, there is no state religion. Among the Dutch population of 18 years and older, 50% regards themselves as member of an religious denomination or a religious group. The issue at stake is the experience of the believer:

  • The Roman Catholics form hereby the largest group (24%)
  • Of the Protestants, 6% is member of the reformed church. 6% is member of the PKN (Protestant Church in the Netherlands), and the other 3% calls themselves Reformed/Calvinist.
  • In addition, around 5% is Muslim
  • 6% has a different religion (Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist).

Publicly and privately-funded education exist side by side in the Netherlands. Publicly-funded education has a neutral foundation unrelated to any particular religious or ideological doctrine. In privately-run institutions, on the other hand, the teaching and ethos may be based on religious, ideological, social or educational principles.

Source: CBS