Unemployment and Grit

‘Grit’ is a personality trait consisting of perseverance of effort and a passion for a long-term goal. According to research, a lack of grit is an important factor that causes unemployment. This brings us to one of the most commonly discussed social challenges in Curaçao, namely the issue of unemployment. According to a press conference by the CBS in February 2021, the unemployment rate has increased from 17.4% in 2019 to 19.1% in 2020[1]. In comparison, the average of the OECD countries by November 2020 was around 6.9%[2].


It is always tempting to point at external factors such as the economy, the government or Covid-19 and blame these external factors for the high rates of unemployment. The conventional assumption of politicians with regards to the issue of high levels of unemployment is that there are not enough job openings in the market, and this gap should essentially be filled by directly or indirectly creating subsidized jobs.

However, there is always one particular observation that undermines this conventional assumption about the supposed lack of job opportunities in Curaçao. That one particular observation is that newly arrived immigrants in Curaçao, documented or undocumented, rarely seem to be unemployed in Curaçao. Thus, a lack of job opportunities cannot possibly be the cause of unemployment. This observation begs the question: “Are we analyzing the right phenomena and are we drawing the right conclusions with regards to the unemployment rate in Curaçao?”

A recent survey by the Think To Do Institute (T2DI) about the mindset and resilience of the population of Curaçao, provides us with some valuable insights on this matter. This survey, in which more than a thousand citizens participated, was conducted between March and December 2020.

One of the components of this mindset survey considered the role of grit as defined by psychologist Angela Duckworth. Grit is a personality trait based on an individual's perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal. In the survey, perseverance of effort was measured by posing questions such as: “I have achieved a goal that took years of work.” On the other hand, passion for a particular long-term goal was measured by posing questions such as: “I often set a goal, but later choose to pursue a different one.”

The survey also collected demographical data, such as the employment status of the participants. By combining the information gathered about grit with the information gathered about employment status, T2DI was able to prove that a lack of grit is an important predictive factor for unemployment. In doing so, T2DI contributes towards making the public discourse about the unemployment rate more data-driven.

With this hard evidence in mind, it may be time to re-assess our conventional notions about the causes of unemployment. Instead of stating: “The employment rate in Curaçao is high”, a more useful statement would be: “The level of grit amongst many Curaçao citizens is low, which, on an individual basis, results in reduced job opportunities for that individual”.

Once we have correctly diagnosed that a lack of grit in individuals is an important factor that causes unemployment, we can deploy intervention strategies aimed at nurturing and fostering this personality trait in individuals. This will prove to be a much more sustainable strategy than those that most politicians propose (that is, creating subsidized jobs).

This finding is just one of the findings that T2DI will share related to mindset and resilience. More findings will be shared, along with specific recommendations, in the coming months.

The Think To DO Institute is an independent, apolitical think tank located in Curaçao, Dutch Caribbean.  The T2DI has as its purpose to help Curaçao become a more resilient society by producing research that is based in best practice, and which delivers practical solutions to the barriers that hold the community back from becoming more resilient.  Research evidence shows that Resilient Societies are created by attention to people, to organizations, to place, and to knowledge.  Resilient Societies design, redesign organizations, institutions and systems to better absorb disruption, operate under a wide variety of conditions, and shift more fluently from one circumstance to the next. For more information about the Think To DO Institute, visit the website:  www.thinktodoinstitute.com


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