Shiny Happy Dutch People Make Shiny Happy Dutch Babies

Dutch children are the happiest in the developed world. A Brit and an American raising children in the Netherlands ask why:

When it came to Dutch children rating their own happiness levels, more than 95 per cent considered themselves happy. Several other research surveys have likewise highlighted the positive benefits of growing up in the Netherlands – Britain’s Child Poverty Action Group and the World Health Organisation, for example. The Unicef report was a follow- up to one conducted in 2007, in which the Netherlands were first heralded as a prime example of childhood prosperity. The UK and the US ranked in the two lowest positions.

In addition, new research also suggests that Dutch babies are happier than their American counterparts. After examining the temperamental differences between babies born in the US and the Netherlands, Dutch babies were found to be more contented – laughing, smiling and cuddling more – than American babies. Dutch babies were also easier to soothe, while American babies displayed more fear, sadness and frustration. Psychologists attribute this discrepancy to the different cultural mores of child-rearing in the two countries. It’s quite astonishing to us that no one seems to be making more of a fuss about this.

  • Dutch babies get more sleep.
  • Dutch kids have little or no homework at primary school.
  •  Are not just seen but also heard.
  • Are trusted to ride their bikes to school on their own.
  • Are allowed to play outside unsupervised.
  • Have regular family meals.
  • Get to spend more time with their mothers and fathers.
  • Enjoy simple pleasures and are happy with second-hand toys.
  • And last but not least, get to eat chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) for breakfast.

The Netherlands have a reputation for being a liberal country with a tolerance of sex, drugs and alcohol, yet beneath this lies a closely guarded secret: the Dutch are actually fairly conservative people. At the heart of Dutch culture is a society of home-loving people who place the child firmly at the centre. Parents have a healthy attitude towards their kids, seeing them as individuals rather than as extensions of themselves. They understand that achievement doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness, but that happiness can cultivate achievement. The Dutch have reined in the anxiety, stress and expectations of modern-day parenting, redefining the meaning of success and wellbeing. For them, success starts with happiness – that of their children and themselves.

The first caveat is, as always, genetic confounds. The main reason Dutch children are happier is that they were born to Dutch parents. The Netherlands has been one of the most successful societies on earth — often the most successful — for 5-6 centuries now. The Dutch are tall, good-looking, smart, happy, healthy, and have moderate, prudent, sensible habits. They avoid unnecessary risk, have strong sense of social responsibility, accept limits on their freedom (such as high taxes or bicycle lanes crowding out cars) to enhance overall flourishing, and take care of each other. These are all hallmarks of societies made up of people with high general levels of intelligence, risk-avoidance, ability to delay gratification, and impulse control. As this landmark 2015 study (whose lead authors are Dutch!) shows, all of these traits are heritable to a certain extent, usually between 30 and 50%.

But still, I'd be willing to bet there's a pretty big environmental component. There are hundreds of thousands of non-Dutch babies being raised in the Netherlands. My guess would be that they tend to do worse than ethnically Dutch children, but better than children in their own home cultures. We can safely assume that their own home cultures are more chaotic and less prosperous than the Netherlands, because almost every other country on earth is more chaotic and less prosperous than the Netherlands.

If anyone knows any good studies on this, I'd be interested to learn of them.

10 thoughts on “Shiny Happy Dutch People Make Shiny Happy Dutch Babies

  1. I had a long-running feud with the Dutch, for purely personal reasons, and one they didn’t know about. Then, I read

    It’s strange how one single sentence in one single work of one single author can change your mind… forever.

    Like a clasp on the neck with a punch in the gut.

    🙂 of course, this only works in you assume some sort of genetic component in the behavior of people…

    otherwise everything human becomes random white noise with some minor statistical aberrations.

    People would just be a milling mass of minions, with no free will of their own, they would simply do as they are told, there wold be no individual love or hate, nobody would want to get out of a bad government or even just a bad relationship, as there would be no concept of such a thing.

    Everything would be just fine to the individual mind, because, hey, that’s what they were taught, and there is no other.

    Of course, someone exempt, with a supreme free will and absolute knowledge, would have to provide the benign surroundings, like, say, a god, a father, a nanny grandmother, a big brother… you can see where ze rabbit is runningk, and where it comes from.

    Funny how zis works out in different parts of ze world… and when. And it always ends in re-education camps and mass extermination of the “other”.


  2. I dunno if you studied the party program of Wilders’ party PVV. If we take it seriously (and history tells us that we should always do that) then he actually plans to ban Islam (Islam, that is, not Salafism) altogether. Of course, he’s not going into the details of how you could ban the Quran, but if you want to go the full way here than that would include not only the closing down of mosques, but also large-scale surveillance of bookshops, libraries and all places that could potentially be used as mosques. You see where this might be leading to in the long run? Definitely an end to Dutch secularism and tolerance.


  3. “all of these traits are heritable to a certain extent, usually between 30 and 50%.”
    Not a % of a “trait” (whatever yu mean by this; you seem to confuse sociological, psychological and biological terms) is heritable, but some proportion of its (phenotypic) variance be attributed to heredity. But as you certainly are aware of, this proportion is contingent on time and population. The more similar the environmental conditions are for all members of a population, the higher the share of variance which will be attributed to genes. But if environmental conditions are very different for members of a population, then the relative share of genes for the explanation of a trait decreases. Therefore, aradoxically, you will find a higher % of variance attributed to “genes” in more eglitarian societies such as the Netherlands, and less % in India. Moreover, if you study genetic influence within a certain segment of a population, e.g. the middle class in Western Societies, the variance explained by “genes” will be exceptionally high.

    But you REALLY need to read some decent books about geneteics, not that made-for-tabloids stuff you are used to. And I guess that there are usefull blogs out there.


  4. Oh, I’m quite well-informed, thanks very much. I’ve read numerous books on the subject, read hundreds of articles, and enjoy blogs like Razib Khan and James Thompson, as well as many others. I am certain I know more about it than you do, unless you happen to have specialized training, in which case I happily defer.

    The shorthand I used in the article is the universally-accepted means of journalistic shorthand to convey the idea of heritability. It’s accurate enough, there’s no need to bore my readers with long digressions. I use similar shorthand when I write about the law, even thought I’m a former law professor and could waste paragraphs going into detail. That’s what I do in academic writing.

    There is a very simple reason for the higher amount of genetic variance in more homogeneous populations: environmental factors are more constant across the cohort.

    That is, if you sample 1000 Indians at random, there will be hundreds who were exposed to lead or other toxins, chronic malnourishment, severe illness, parasites, and/or have spent almost no time in school. These huge environmental effects swamp the very real genetic influences. In a sample of 1000 modern Dutch kids, almost none will have seen any of the factors.

    This doesn’t meant that there is a *different level* of hereditary factors involved, it means that the level is *harder to detect* because it’s obscured by environmental factors. Two identical lights will look different when seen through clear vs. frosted glass.


  5. I know you are going to tell me that you don’t care about the source of an article, as you’ve stated many times before but please hear me out because ….it does matter. How much it matters is directly proportional to your knowledge of the subject of an article/blog post.
    A few names that have come up in your posts about intelligence and heredity: John Fuerst, Kierkegaard, Thompson, Piffer and others.
    Most of their stuff is “published” in the “peer reviewed” journal “Openpsych”. Do some research and tell me if you would accept a Law Jounal as credible if it was like Openpsych (a small number of mostly unknown people with no specialisation in the field who cite each other in an online journal they have created themselves…)
    Fuerst (to be fair, I don’t remember if you have cited his stuff, but he co-authored papers with some of them) is a bona fide racist who personally published stuff in fun publications like “Stormfront”
    Even the most senior and serious scientist of the batch, Richard Lynn had this to say “”What is called for here is not genocide, the killing off of the population of incompetent cultures. But we do need to think realistically in terms of the ‘phasing out’ of such peoples…Evolutionary progress means the extinction of the less competent. To think otherwise is mere sentimentality.”
    Where I don’t find these names is in an organisation like…
    Don’t you think that means something? At the very least it means that there is a very high likelyhood that the “hereditarians” research is heavily biased…
    In the past you have rightly critcised the knee jerk reflex of calling something a “mere correlation” as silly. To my mind ignoring the source of a piece of information is not much better unless you are able to assess the content matter with a very high degree of expertise.
    to end this on a more friendly note: Judith Harris’ “No Two Alike – Human Nature and Human Individuality” is, I think, an excellent book on the subject. I believe she might have been one of the first ones to strongly argue for the importance of heredity. She is also very aproacheable and answers emails on the subject. You might have better luck at getting qualified answers asking her directly than asking us readers of your blog 🙂


  6. I am very well aware of the work of all the authors you mention, and so many others as well. I know much more than you do. You misspelled Kirkegaard’s name, by the way. If you go to his website, you will find a detailed and informative account of why he publishes where he does. He always makes all of his data available, so that anyone can challenge his conclusions if they wish.

    I don’t particularly care about the political opinions of scientists. Richard Lewontin is a card-carrying Marxist, but unless he allows his personal political opinions to affect his arguments or his statistical models, they are irrelevant. (Lots of his arguments are flimsy). Same with Noam Chomsky’s views on linguistics. If you troll through the record of anyone who publishes in the public eye and look for isolated quotations to take out of context, you can make *anyone* look like a fool or a villain. You will, therefore, often find that people who publish a lot in the public eye, as I do, are unimpressed by this kind of bullshit argument.

    As for the Lynn quote, it pops up all the time as a handy way to dismiss his entire decades-spanning scientific career. But I guarantee you cannot find the original source, and therefore have no *genuine* idea what its original context was. Provide me with the full text of the original source and I’ll be interested. But most people don’t even bother to cite it.

    The fact that I cite an author does not mean I endorse every view held by that person. Nor does it mean I endorse every view held by anyone *that author* cites. That kind of insipid guilt by association is the kind of thing censors and repressive governments endorse. I judge arguments on their merits, and ask the same courtesy in return.


  7. Remember how angry you got when somebody pointed out to you that you misspelled something? Saying “I know more than you do” is not an argument.
    Contrary to what you might think I am neither an ideologist, nor an idiot (I hope). What I do think is that if Fuerst et al are good scientists they should find a safe haven with an organisation like whose mission it is to get rid of ideological bs in the sciences.
    As to Flynn’s quote taken out of context: In what context is that quote not extremely racist?


  8. “As to Flynn’s quote taken out of context: In what context is that quote not extremely racist?”

    What if it’s fabricated? What if Flynn was merely paraphrasing someone else’s point of view? The original source is usually given as a book review.

    Neither you nor I have ever read the original source in its entirety. I choose to refrain from judgment until that happens. And since I’m not particularly interested in judging a prolific author’s entire career by one brief quote, I don’t really care enough to find the original source.


  9. Yes, it might have been wrongly attributed to him. I am not judging his entire career. He is a controversial figure and he is an eminent scholar. The others are not and I find it hard to believe that the only reason for that should be subject of study. I do understand that there is a possibility that Kierjegaraaadrad got everything thing right and people are just afraid of the truth. There is that possibility.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s