I borrowed these books from my father, and finished reading them some time ago: Gouden Jaren (“Golden Years”) and Het Goede Leven (“The Good Life”) by Annegreet van Bergen.
Van Bergen is an economist, and in these two books she shows how every-day life in the Netherlands changed between 1950 and 2000. In that period, average wealth increased four-fold (and that’s real wealth, corrected for inflation!) — an unprecedented period of economic growth. And we all know that it hasn’t been replicated since, too…
That economic growth also had an effect on social life and technology, which in turn allowed for more economic growth etcetera. For instance, with transportation becoming cheaper (most notably things like mopeds), people could now take jobs further away from home which paid better. That meant more income, which got spent on more luxury, which made it economically feasible to invest in the production of those things, and so on. It is an interesting look at how the Netherlands developed in living memory, and how things changed.
Though it is not a subject of the book, it is also an interesting look into the lives of the baby-boomers. We know boomers to be self-absorbed and unwilling to share. How did they get this way? Well, these books tell you about their formative years, and how they established themselves socially and economically during this period. It must be completely natural for them that every decade has a much higher standard of living than the decade before — they simply haven’t experienced anything else. By the time the big economic crises hit, they were already largely insulated from the worst.
Gouden Jaren starts with an anecdote that perfectly illustrates this: at a party, the writer meets a man who is retired. He and his wife bought a large caravan and go on holidays: four weeks in summer, four weeks in winter, and they do city trips during the rest of the year. When the topic of pensions comes up, he gets really angry because his pension has not retained its full value — which was the promise of back then, but nobody under 60 has such a pension these days… Then the writer asks him whether his parents could have afforded two months of vacation each year. Turns out that, before the man went into military service, he had never been on vacation — his father rented a car for a day, and that was it. (If you can read Dutch, it’s the start of the first chapter and that’s available to read on the book page linked above.)
The writer herself is a boomer, so she doesn’t really spend a lot of time on what growing up in this period did to her or her mentality, other than to illustrate some change in daily life — but the signs on how the boomer generation became so entitled are certainly there.
I found it easy to read, written in a conversational tone. But the books made me half-envious: envious of seeing your daily life improve so much, but on the other hand I grew up with most of those improvements already in place. My teeth are much better than my parents’, because dental care really took off when I was a little kid. I profited from having all kinds of telecommunications available, etcetera. The only thing to lament is that, because of the social and economic structures in place, not everyone can profit from these things.
If you have an interest in recent Dutch history, then I certainly recommend these two books.