Utrecht University: Large grant for multidisciplinary research into strengthening women’s economic resilience

The research project into the economic resilience of women had already received a large NWO grant last year, but now NWO has awarded another grant of 1.6 million euros. external link“With a total of 2.8 million euros, the multidisciplinary project is now fully funded”, explains Utrecht University Professor Belle Derks external link. In the project, researchers from the Gender & Diversity Hub external linkand the Future of Work Hub external link, under the leadership of Prof. Derks and her colleague Tanja van der Lippe external link, aim to gain greater insight into the complete ecosystem around economically vulnerable women. “We’re extremely happy to be able to continue working to improve Dutch women’s economic resilience over the next few years. We plan on working together with a large coalition.”

Although women in the Netherlands are becoming more economically independent over time, 36% of Dutch women still do not have enough income from paid employment to make ends meet, or have absolutely no income at all. In this project, the researchers hope to address the problem by identifying factors that prevent women from becoming economically independent. They aim to bring about systemic change together with the women and important players in their immediate surroundings, such as their partners, the government, employers and child care professionals. Van der Lippe: “We’re studying where to look in the women’s ecosystem to find the best opportunities to improve women’s economic resilience.”

We’re investing in a chain-based approach in which jobs are opened up for mothers receiving welfare benefits. The goal is to create upward career mobility.

Tanja van der Lippe
Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences
Three living labs
The researchers have set up three living labs where researchers and social partners co-create with the target group itself to experiment with sustainable, innovative solutions to complex problems. In the first living lab (Werken doe je niet alleen – You Don’t Work Alone) will develop systematic interventions to guide mothers receiving welfare benefits to find long-term employment. Van der Lippe: ‘We’re investing in a chain-based approach in which jobs are opened up for mothers receiving welfare benefits. The goal is to create upward career mobility by training vocationally educated female employees for other positions in the same sector or other sectors, to free up their jobs for mothers on benefits.”

Many mothers start working less after the birth of their first child, but few fathers do the same.

Belle Derks
Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences
Facilitating involved fatherhood
The second living lab (Samen veerkrachtig – Resilient Together) will attempt to answer the question: does involved fatherhood improve women’s economic independence? Derks: “Many mothers start working less after the birth of their first child, but few fathers do the same. A lot of employers are willing to accommodate mothers in combining work and family life, but they’re less likely to do the same for fathers. But what if fathers were facilitated in being involved from the very start of the pregnancy? In this living lab, we will cooperate with parents, obstetricians and employers to develop interventions that facilitate fathers’ involvement starting from pregnancy, in order to enhance women’s economic independence.”

economisch onafhankelijk
Unemployed without benefits
The third living lab (Op weg naar werk – On the Path to Work) will focus on more than one million women in the Netherlands who are unemployed and aren’t receiving welfare benefits. These include women whose partners earn enough to support the whole family, but also women who work in the informal economy. Since these women aren’t economically independent, they run the risk of finding themselves in major financial problems if they get divorced. Van der Lippe: “We don’t know much about this group in the Netherlands and how to encourage them to move towards paid employment. So in living lab 3, we’ll study that question and develop an intervention to stimulate them to find paid employment.”

We aim to spark social change over the next four years
Social change
The research project also has a shared component. Derks: “We’re building a coalition of scientists, government, employers, child care professionals and advocacy organisations. Together, we aim to spark social change over the next four years in which the ecosystem around women can give them opportunities to develop more economic resilience.”


Don’t fix the women, fix the system
Professor Lars Tummers and Dr Machiel van der Heijden are working on this project from the Utrecht University School of Governance external link, more specifically ‘Behavioural Public Administration’. A postdoc will soon be joining them. “We mainly look at developing a stimulating environment to make behavioural change easier,” says Tummers. “Not #fixthewomen, but #fixthesystem.”


‘Women’s Economic Resilience’ external linkis a National Science Agenda (NWA) programme that is made possible in part by the Ministries of Education, Culture & Science and Social and Social Affairs & Employment. In 2018, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science commissioned the Dutch Research Council (NWO) to administer the NWA programme.

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