09.01 The Associative Order in the Netherlands: An Historical Analysis of its Development, Functioning and Well-being Effects

This project studies the Dutch associative order and its effect on wellbeing in the Netherlands between 1848-2020. It uses a comparative study of two wellbeing dimension, housing and healthcare, to examine internal cooperative dynamics and dominance of the associative order at both the meso- and macro-level, and analyse specific wellbeing attributes and distribution amongst members/non-members.

Project info

Project consists of following studies
This project investigates the development and possible transitions of the associative order in the Netherlands from 1848-2020. This coordination system, which operates based on cooperation between organized groups and associational organizations, has been very important throughout various periods in Dutch history. However, the contribution of associative organizations and associative action as a social and economic coordination system in the Netherlands is often overlooked, as well as the possible effect of these organisations’ changing role on Dutch citizens’ well-being. Taking a new approach to studying associative action, this dissertation uses the theoretical framework proposed by Streeck and Schmitter (1985) to analyse them as an associative order, being a social system in which cooperation and concertation between organized groups and associative organizations dominate economic coordination and resource allocation. The project wants to assess the changes in this order, more specifically the shifts between inclusive, broad cooperation on the one hand to oligarchy on the other. Second, it aims to test the effects of such changes on the well-being of Dutch society. More specifically, it will be investigated how the associative order affected well-being in two domains: housing and healthcare. Both quantitative and qualitative variables related to the theoretical framework will be used to examine the internal cooperative dynamics and diversity of the associative order at both the meso- and macro-level. In this way, this dissertation hopes to add to the literature a deeper understanding of associative organisations’ role in economic development, policy formulation, and well-being outcomes in the Netherlands between 1848 and 2020.
Project start
End date
Behavioral theory
Utrecht University
Utrecht University
Utrecht University
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
  • Coordination systems
  • History
  • Institutional change
  • Sociology
  • Wellbeing
  • Economic and Social History
  • Sociology
Work package
  • Work
Sustainability threat
  • Feedback Cycles
  • Reconciling stakeholder interests
Theoretical background
Economies can be coordinated in several ways. Common types of coordination systems are the state, market, and associative order. These systems explain differences between state-led and free-market economies, and associative economies in which cooperation between organised groups and associational organisations dominate economic resource allocation and coordination (Streeck & Schmitter, 1985). For the Netherlands, institutional literature concerning the 20th century often emphasises persistence in coordination types over time (Hall & Thelen, 2009), whilst historical studies of the Dutch economy hint at the dynamic nature of these coordination types (Sluyterman, 2015; Arnoldus et al., 2004; Touwen, 2006). The changing level of associational presence in allocating and coordinating resources in the Netherlands and its potential effect on individual wellbeing is understudied. This research addresses this gap by examining the dominance level of the Dutch associative order and its effect on wellbeing in the Netherlands between 1848 and 2020.

In the 20th century, associative organisations (e.g., associations, unions, cooperatives, corporations, mutuals) have played a crucial role in the Dutch economy. After World War II, tripartite institutions became institutionalised. Inter- and intra-organisational concertation between different (associative) organisations dominated policy-making, especially for labour relations. Late 20th century, this coordination system changed with a rise of free-market ideology with many councils being dissolved (Prak, 2014; Kickert, 2003; van Waarden, 2002). The extent to which associations have been included in policy-making and economic coordination has likely impacted individual well-being. Previous studies has shown associational presence can lead to economic stability, reduce wealth inequality, increase distributive fairness, and provide individual and tangible benefits to their members (van Bavel, 2022; Unger & van Waarden, 1999).

This research tests the hypothesis that a dominant associative order promotes an equal distribution of wellbeing attributes and benefits. It does so by focusing on the Dutch housing sector in the late 19th and 20th centuries. This sector is an interesting case study as housing heavily influence wellbeing and experienced improving conditions over the last two centuries (Philips et al., 2021; Lintsen et al., 2018). Furthermore, the sector has an extensive history of market, government, and associative actors influencing policy and supply of goods and services, such as rental dwellings by housing associations and municipality dwellings (Beekers, 2012). This allows an in-depth analysis of the associative orders’ development and its impact on wellbeing outcomes.
Research design
This research uses a comparative study of two wellbeing dimensions: housing and healthcare. Using the theoretical framework, quantitative and qualitative variables are formed to (I) examine the internal cooperative dynamics and dominance of the associative order at both the meso- and macro-level, and (II) analyse specific wellbeing attributes and their distribution amongst members and non-members. The data will be gathered from associations’ statutes, internal regulations, annual reports, and council minutes for the meso-level. For the macro-level, governmental reports, ministry notes, and census data are consulted.
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