A History Of Dutch Emigration

The Dutch are rightfully proud of their ‘little nation’ that has despite its size, made such a huge impact on the world stage. It is surprising then, that the Netherlands is actually a nation with a long tradition of emigration! Some think of Dutch migration as a relatively new phenomenon, that only really began fifty years ago, just after the Second World War. However, Dutch migration actually began in earnest hundreds of years before that, during the so-called Dutch Golden Age. During this affluent period in Dutch history, the first Dutch immigrants set up trading posts in New Netherlands (today better known as the United States), South Africa, the Dutch East Indies (contemporary Indonesia) and Suriname in South America.

The Dutch Exodus To The United States

Throughout the nineteenth century, hordes of people fled the Netherlands, escaping a desperately poor economic situation resulting from poor harvests. Religion also played a pivotal role in prompting some Dutch citizens to abandon their homeland. The Calvinists, a separate branch of the Dutch Reformed Church who lived predominantly in Gelderland, Overijssel and Zeeland, no longer felt accepted in their native Holland and left to begin a new life in Michigan and Iowa in the United States. Many also abandoned regions such as Groningen and Friesland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, with the promise of a better life in the United States proving simply too strong to resist. In addition to joining existing Dutch settlements in Michigan and Iowa, these opportunists went to the states of Wisconsin, Washington and New York.

The Wave Of Postwar Emigration

The most well-documented wave of emigration came just after the end of the Second World War. The Netherlands was suffering an economic low and there was a dire shortage of housing, due to the destruction of towns and cities by German bomber planes. The war was still fresh in the memory, and there was a prevailing fear that a Third World War was just a matter of time. For many young people in particular, growing up in austerity made the decision to emigrate quick and easy to make. They didn’t all leave for the United States though– some young adventurers sought out their new life in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Dutch Emigration, Twenty-First Century Style

Emigration cannot simply be attributed to specific economic, religious or political developments, as it is a trend that has manifested itself in the Netherlands throughout the centuries, regardless of circumstance. Today thousands of Dutch are still choosing to wave goodbye to their beloved land of Dutch windmills, clogs and cheese in search of a foreign adventure. Indeed, between 2003 and 2008 the Netherlands experienced greater emigration than immigration and, according to the World Bank, as much as five percent of the Dutch population was living outside of the Netherlands by 2005. The Dutch are now often found closer to home, with Germany and Belgium being the two most popular destinations for emigration in recent years. France, Britain and the United States remain popular but sunnier climes such as Spain, Portugal and exotic Thailand are enticing more Dutch than ever before.

Reasons For Dutch Emigration

The CBS has conducted significant research on why the Dutch continue to emigrate in increasing numbers. It is often suggested that the economic crisis and the deterioration of Dutch society are the main triggers for emigration, but this appears to be only part of the story. A progressively dense population means that the Dutch are more likely than ever to choose a house just across the Dutch border, where they can enjoy space, nature and seclusion, all hard to come by in the Netherlands. Economic motives are also an important factor for many who are attracted to a lower taxation system or cheaper housing in their chosen country. However, for most, economic factors are not the primary incentive. Research has indicated that although one in three expats expect their income, social security and pension fund to reduce after leaving the Netherlands, this is not enough to deter them from their plans for emigration.

A Touch of Nostalgia

Most Dutch emigrants settle quickly into their new life and never want to return to a cold and overcrowded Holland. Yet they still suffer from homesickness from time to time and miss their friends and family. They also crave some small tastes of home, such as chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag), Dutch biscuits (beschuit), hearty pea soup (erwtensoep) and licorice (drop). The most difficult time of year for the Dutch missing their home comforts is around the time of Sinter Klaas, the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus. This is a time of year for enjoying the Dutch chocolate letters traditionally given on 5th December and for sharing a bag of gingerbread cookies (pepernoten). Fortunately, all these delicious Dutch products are now easy to order via a selection of online Dutch stores, so wherever in the world the Dutch find themselves, traditional Dutch groceries are always within easy reach!