Ethnic Groups in the Netherlands

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Netherlands has a reputation for being a very friendly place, and it is, but ethnicity is a tricky subject no matter where you are. In this lesson we'll talk about ethnicity in the Netherlands, and see how the changing world is affecting Dutch society.

The Netherlands

When I was growing up, the Dutch always confused me. Not because there's anything inherently confusing about Dutch people, but just because I couldn't find a country on the map that looked like the word Dutch. Later I learned that the Dutch, in fact, live in the Netherlands. But the name still confused me. Turns out, the word Dutch was an Old English word for any national group of people. It was later used to describe broadly the people of Northern Europe. At the same time, the Old English started calling a specific part of Northern Europe the Netherlands, which basically meant 'the lowlands'. Within these Netherlands was a particular place filled with trees, a woodland which in Old English is called a Holland. So, there you go- the Dutch, Netherlands, and Holland are actually terms from Old English to describe different things. It's confusing to us, but the Dutch actually make this much simpler. In the Dutch language, their country is called Nederland, and the people Nederlanders. Now that I can understand.

The Netherlands
Map of the Netherlands

Dutch Ethnicity

The Netherlands are primarily home to the Nederlander people, or as we call them, the Dutch. As an ethnic group, the Dutch make up roughly 79-80% of the total population, so they're a pretty dominant majority. There are also quite a few of them. The Netherlands may not be the largest country in the world, but they are very heavily populated, with a total population of almost 17 million people. Considering the size of the country, that actually makes the Netherlands one of the most densely populated places in the world, with an average of 477 people per square kilometer. So, there are quite a few Dutch people. Genetically, the Dutch are a mixture of Germanic and Celtic tribes, and closely related to both the Germans and the English. The Dutch today are generally multilingual thanks to government emphasis on bilingual education, and adhere largely to both Catholic and Protestant branches of Christianity. Contrary to popular belief, there are actually more Catholic Dutch than Protestants.


While the Dutch population is ethnically pretty consistent, there is one group that merits special attention. In the Netherlands province called Friesland are a population of people who are ethnically Frisian. Frisians are a Northern European ethnic group who are closely related to the Old English. In fact, their language today is very similar to modern English. Frisians live in both the Netherlands and Germany, but in the Netherlands are largely included within the Dutch ethnicity, due to large cultural and historical similarities. So, they aren't generally recognized as an ethnic minority, although the Frisian language is recognized as an official language in the Friesland province.

Ethnic Minorities in the Netherlands

Being a major cultural and economic center for centuries, the Netherlands have played host to a number of ethnic groups, many of which maintain minority communities in the nation today. About 6% are European, but an increasing number of ethnic minorities are from the Middle East or Northern Africa. This is largely thanks to a strong economy in the Netherlands that has attracted lots of attention and encouraged migration. The biggest of these new arrivals are the Turkish, at about 2.5% of the total population, and the Moroccans, at around 2% of the population. While there are no formal policies of discrimination against these groups, growing islamophobia (fear of Islamic populations) across Europe in recent years has introduced some strong social prejudices.

The Turkish have become a large ethnic minority of the Netherlands

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