In the years following the Second World War a miracle occurred in the Netherlands: despite the high birth rate, unemployment fell and the economy grew at an astonishing pace. No one had to miss out on the new prosperity in the 1960s. For those unable to provide for themselves, the welfare state set up under Willem Drees offered support. At the same time, the social divisions and loyalties that had marked prewar society lost their importance. NG-694-2-13

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1945-1958 Postwar recovery

Cranes from the USA employed to rebuild Rotterdam harbour. United States Information Service, c. 1946-1947

Cranes from the USA employed to rebuild Rotterdam harbour. United States Information Service, c. 1946-1947

A key contribution to the recovery in postwar Netherlands came from the American government. Secretary of State George Marshall’s aid plan provided Europe with funds, goods, raw materials and produce. From 1948 to 1958, the Dutch government was a coalition of Catholic and social democratic parties (KVP and PvdA). Under the socialist prime minister Willem Drees the country recovered. Everyone was expected to play a part. The Netherlands was the only country in Western Europe where wages hardly rose at all. This gave the economy a competitive edge over its rivals. Employer organisations worked closely with unions representing the workforce.

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1958-1965 Growing welfare state

Portrait of Willem Drees in shells. Netherlands, c. 1960

Labour Party election poster, 1952

In 1947, as minister of social affairs, Willem Drees had already begun to extend the welfare state: the system in which the government took responsibility for the basic needs of its citizens. Seniors without resources now received a regular pension. Ten years later, in 1957, a general pension law was passed (Algemene Ouderdoms Wet - AOW): a compulsory national pension scheme. Successive governments after Drees introduced more benefits: child support in 1963 (Algemene Kinderbijslagwet) and social security in 1965 (Algemene Bijstandswet), making financial assistance to families and those without means a right. People in need were no longer dependent on charity from religious or private organisations. The cost of this extensive system of benefits, public health services and affordable education would henceforth be borne by the state.