Author: Merel Kas

In the Netherlands, there are 419.000 working age individuals who are currently unemployed (CBS 2020). These individuals share no single face or feature: Instead, they come from a range of backgrounds and classes, and have varying reasons as to why they are unemployed. Dutch media and society however, often offer only a very one-sided, stereotypical representation of unemployed individuals, creating different – often harmful – misconceptions around the issue.

Representations of Unemployment in Public Life

Unemployment is very much a subject of Dutch media, often even touched on in cartoons (see Figures 1 and 2):

Figure 1. “Do you know what you cost us?”
Figure 2. “Unemployment on the rise – ‘I was one of the pioneers!'”

Both cartoons reflect the stereotypical traits that Dutch society associates with unemployment. In Figure 1, the unemployed man is depicted as a homeless man, appearing extremely sad and sluggish. The second cartoon depicts the unemployed man as unshaven and shabby, wearing ragged clothes and with deep dark circles under his eyes. This tends to be the general take that cartoonists in the Dutch media take when representing unemployment in their work.

What do people know about unemployment?

As the media is a key filter through which people learn about each other, general knowledge about unemployment also seems to be heavily influenced by dominant stereotypes (Garz 2014; Ross 2019). Many Dutch individuals believe unemployment to mainly affect those with lower level of schooling, disability or migrant background, as these groups are generally believed to have both a lower social and cultural capital, making it harder for them to find a job (De Haan et. al. 2015). In fact, they are assumed to be unaware of how to interact properly, take longer to learn skills or not know appropriate types of behavior (De Haan et. al. 2015).

The image that is created of unemployment thus very much reflects the cartoons from before: Lazy and unmotivated, often with a migrant background. Politicians such as Geert Wilders for example, repeatedly state that migrants come to the Netherlands to simply sit at home doing nothing while receiving government benefits (Trouw 2007).

Such repeated negative representations of social groups are harmful in more ways than one. Distorting audience perceptions of certain individuals not only promotes public hostility towards others, it also lowers people’s self-esteem, thereby further isolating and trapping them in their socially constructed categories (Ross 2019).


CBS (2020). “”Werklozen.” Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek. At

De Haan, J., P. Baay, and M. Yerkes (2015). “Positief En Negatief Sociaal Kapitaal Van Mbo-jongeren: Sociale Ongelijkheid Naar Opleidingsniveau?” Sociologie: Tijdschrift 11(3): 424-48.

Garz, M. (2014). “Good news and bad news: evidence of media bias in unemployment reports.” Public Choice 161(3-4): 499-515.

Ross, T. (2019). “Media and Stereotypes.” Palgrave Handbook of Ethnicity. Palgrave Macmillan Singapore. https://doi. org/10.1007/978-981-13-0242-8_26-1.

Trouw (2007). “Geert Wilders: Werkloze buitenlanders het land uit.” Trouw. At

How is Unemployment represented in the Netherlands?

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