Big Dutch cities see accelerating growth

The Netherlands’ six largest cities - Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Eindhoven and Groningen - are growing at an increasing rate, according to a report by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL).

The big cities have been seeing their populations increase since the 1980s. In the period between 2000 and 2014, Utrecht, a city with a current population of around 311.000, grew by 95.000 inhabitants.

Amsterdam gained 80.000 over the same period, The Hague 70.000, Rotterdam and Groningen each 25.000, and Eindhoven 20.000.

Much of this growth was concentrated in the past five years.

More graduates, young families staying in cities

The PBL reports that the increasing percentage of young people attending university is a major reason for the growth of big cities.

In a trend it describes as the "escalator effect", university students - of whom there are now more than ever - no longer view the cities as merely hosting them during their studies, but rather as places to begin their careers and, in many cases, raise families.

This phenomenon has developed in contrast to the dominant pattern of the 1960s and 70s, when young families tended to move to smaller outlying communities.

Now, a large number of highly-educated young people are finding big cities to be suitable environments in which to raise children.

The PBL notes that this may have something to do with the effects of the recent economic crisis, which likely caused many recent graduates to delay their moving plans and instead stay put.

During this period, the housing market stagnated, but city populations grew thanks to the sub-division of existing housing, and an increase in the average number of people living at a single address.

However, cities are also becoming more appealing places to settle down. Recent policy efforts have made many areas safer and cleaner.

Growing neighbourhoods like Amsterdam’s IJburg, The Hague’s Ypenburg, and Utrecht’s Leidsche Rijn have "family-friendly" reputations and offer more affordable, often more spacious housing.

Smaller cities losing out

A consequence of the growth of big Dutch cities is the stagnation of smaller ones.

Cities like Zoetermeer and Nieuwegein were popular settling-down destinations 40 years ago.  Known as groeikernen ("growth centres"), they were developed by the government to handle the outflow of people from nearby big cities.

Today, most groeikernen are hardly growing at all.  Their populations are aging, stagnant, and generally less affluent than they were several decades ago.

Growing inequality in Amsterdam

In Amsterdam, recent figures from the office for Research, Information and Statistics (OIS) point to another effect of the "escalator" trend: an increase in the number of high-income people who call the city home.

Since 2011, roughly 20 per cent of Amsterdam’s population has been living on low income. This number has stayed constant.

But since 2001, the percentage of high-earners in the city has risen from seven to 12,4 per cent. 

With the middle class shrinking, social-economic inequalities are becoming wider and more visible in Amsterdam. 

Researchers attribute the growth of the wealthy population to the increase in the average Amsterdammer’s education level. 

Though this is partly due to an influx of highly-qualified immigrants, it is also directly related to the increasing number of local university graduates choosing to make their lives in the city.

Emily McCallum


Emily McCallum

Emily grew up in a small coastal town in western Canada and moved to Utrecht in 2014, after completing her studies in Vancouver and Germany. So far, she has been...

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