On 1 January 2021, Belgium had 11,521,238 legal inhabitants according to the official figures of Statbel, the Belgian statistical office.
During the past year, the Belgian population grew by 28,597 inhabitants or 0.25%. This is a halving compared to previous years, where the growth rate always fluctuated around 0.5%.
The Covid-19 pandemic had a major impact on several demographic phenomena.
The natural balance - the difference between births and deaths - is negative in Belgium for the first time since the 1940s.
In 2020, the Belgian population increased by 28,597 inhabitants. This increase in population can be explained by two demographic phenomena:
- The natural balance is negative for the first time in a long time (-13,111). In 2020, more Belgians died than babies were born.
- The international migration balance is positive (+41,756), as it was in previous years. In 2020, more immigrations than emigrations were registered.
- The population growth is thus the result of that positive international migration balance. On the one hand, this compensated for the negative natural balance and, on the other hand, caused a slight increase in the population figure. We will take a closer look at those figures.
The population growth of 0.25% in 2020 is a halving compared to previous years, where the figure was always around 0.5%. The Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences is the biggest explanation for this slower growth:
- The natural balance was negative again for the first time since the early 1940s. In Belgium in 2020, more people died than babies were born, resulting in a balance of -13,111. In 2019, the natural balance was +8,358. The natural balance has been declining for quite a few years, but the fall in 2020 is very sharp. This is largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused an increase in the number of deaths: in 2020, 126,850 people died in Belgium, an increase of 16.6% compared to 2019, when 108,745 deaths were counted. At the same time, the number of newborns fell quite sharply: from 117,103 births in 2019 to 113,739 births in 2020 (-2.9%). Between 2018 and 2019, the decrease amounted to -0.6%.
- The international migration balance in Belgium was +41,756 in 2020. This is a rather sharp decline compared to the previous year: in 2019, this balance was still +55,031. In 2020, both immigration and emigration decreased. Immigration fell from 174,591 in 2019 to 144,169 in 2020 (-17.4%). Emigration also decreased from 119,560 in 2019 to 102,413 in 2020 (-14.3%). These decreases are most likely (partly) due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which also restricted the movement of people.
The top 5 nationalities that immigrated to Belgium in 2020 is the same as in 2019:
- Belgians (who return to Belgium after a stay abroad)
For people emigrating from Belgium, almost the same top 5 is observed. The only difference is that Poland is in 5th place in this top, while Italy is just out of the top 5 in 6th place. However, the picture changes when the international migration balance is examined: the largest absolute increase is seen among Romanians, followed by French, Moroccans, Bulgarians and Spaniards.
The Flemish Region
- The natural balance was also negative in the Flemish Region for the first time in a long time, with -8,121, compared to +1,301 in 2019. The number of deaths increased (from 62,420 in 2019 to 70,919 in 2020 or +13.6%), while the number of births decreased slightly (from 63,721 births in 2019 to 62,798 in 2020 or 1.4%). The relative increase in the number of deaths and the relative decrease in the number of births seem to be less than in the other regions.
- In the Flemish Region, the international migration balance was +20,098 in the course of 2020 compared to +28,511 in 2019. The international migration balance fell by -29.5% in Flanders, a sharper decline than in the other regions. It was also found that in relative terms, immigration fell more sharply (from 80,423 in 2019 to 66,899 in 2020 or -16.8%) than emigration (from 51,912 in 2019 to 46,801 in 2020 or -9.8%).
- The Flemish Region has the largest positive internal migration balance of +12,590. So there are more Walloons and people from Brussels who move to Flanders than there are Flemings who move to the other two regions.
The Walloon Region
- In the Walloon Region, the natural balance has been negative since 2015, although a sharp decline is also seen here, from -881 in 2019 to -9,853 in 2020. The number of deaths increased (from 37,409 in 2019 to 44,947 deaths in 2020 or +20.2%). At the same time, the number of births decreased (from 36,528 in 2019 to 35,094 in 2020 or -3.9%). The relative increase in the number of deaths and the relative decrease in the number of births are, for Wallonia, between the values of Flanders and the Brussels-Capital Region.
- The international migration balance in the Walloon Region in 2020 amounted to +8,023 compared to +8,721 in 2019. So in Wallonia, the decrease in the international migration balance was the smallest (-8.0%), compared to Flanders and Brussels. In contrast to Flanders, it was seen that in Wallonia, relatively speaking, international immigration decreased slightly less (39,851 in 2019 to 34,522 in 2020 or -13.4%) than international emigration (31,130 in 2019 to 26,499 in 2020 or -14.9%).
- As in the Flemish Region, we also see a positive internal migration balance in the Walloon Region (+4,729).
The Brussels-Capital Region
- The Brussels-Capital Region is the only region where the natural balance remains positive in 2020 with a balance of +4,863, although this is also a decrease compared to the natural balance of 7,938 in 2019. Just like in Belgium and the other regions, the number of deaths increased (from 8,916 in 2019 to 10,984 in 2020 or 23.2%) and the number of births decreased (from 16,854 in 2019 to 15,847 in 2020 or -6.0%). The relative increase in the number of deaths and the relative decrease in the number of births seem to be greater in the Brussels-Capital Region than in the other regions.
- In the Brussels-Capital Region, the international migration balance was +13,635, a decrease of -23.4% compared to 2019, when it was +17,799. The decrease in Brussels is therefore between that in Flanders and Wallonia. Finally, in Brussels, immigration (from 54,317 in 2019 to 42,748 in 2020 or -21.3%) and emigration (from 36,518 in 2019 to 29,113 in 2020 or -20.3%) also decreased in relative terms.
- When mapping the number of relocation movements between the regions, it has been observed for years that more people move from the Brussels-Capital Region to one of the other two regions than there are Flemings and Walloons who decide to live in the Brussels-Capital Region. The internal migration balance is also negative in 2020 for the Brussels-Capital Region and amounted to -17,319. This is again more negative than in 2019 (-15,722).
The province of Luxembourg was the fastest growing province in Belgium in 2020 with a growth rate of 0.69%. In the Walloon Region, Walloon Brabant follows in position 2 (0.34%) and Namur in position 3 (0.25%). The population in the provinces of Liège and Hainaut experienced a small shrinkage of 0.07% in both provinces.
In the Flemish Region, Flemish Brabant was again the province with the highest growth in 2020, with 0.54%. The provinces of East Flanders (0.43%), Limburg (0.35%) and Antwerp (0.31%) follow at positions 2, 3 and 4 respectively. The slowest growing province in Flanders in 2020 was West Flanders with a growth of 0.20%.
Population movement during 2020 in Belgium, the regions and the provinces
|Place of residence||Population on 1st January 2020||Natural balance||Internal migration balance||International migration balance||Statistical adjustment||Total growth||Population on 1st January 2021|
|Province of Antwerp||1,869,730||-396||-892||7,655||-573||5,794||1,875,524|
|Province of Limburg||877,370||-1,328||1,384||2,978||-7||3,027||880,397|
|Province of East Flanders||1,525,255||-1,970||3,950||4,447||63||6,490||1,531,745|
|Province of Flemish Brabant||1,155,843||-422||5,341||1,485||-163||6,241||1,162,084|
|Province of West Flanders||1,200,945||-4,005||2,807||3,533||32||2,367||1,203,312|
|Province of Walloon Brabant||406,019||-516||1,405||592||-103||1,378||407,397|
|Province of Hainaut||1,346,840||-4,663||1,265||2,471||34||-893||1,345,947|
|Province of Liège||1,109,800||-3,457||-257||2,942||39||-733||1,109,067|
|Province of Luxembourg||286,752||-120||788||1,245||57||1,970||288,722|
|Province of Namur||495,832||-1,097||1,528||773||37||1,241||497,073|
 Data are derived from the National Register. The official population figures do not take into account the waiting register of asylum seekers, which comprises people with an ongoing asylum application (Law of 24 May 1994 establishing a waiting register for foreigners who declare themselves refugees or who ask to be recognised as refugees). However, the figures published by Eurostat contain an estimate of people entered in the waiting register
 A limited number of registrations in the National Register are late or incorrect. Therefore, the observed population growth (difference between the population on 01 January 2021 and 01 January 2020) is not 100 % in line with the balance obtained based on births, deaths and migrations. The statistical adjustment this year amounts to -48 units at Belgian level. This is an indication that the data are of high quality.
 Immigration consists of three movements: (1) classic international immigration, (2) change of register within (transfer from the waiting register to the aliens’ register) and (3) re-registration (following an automatic deletion).
 Emigration consists of three movements: (1) classic international emigration, (2) change of register ‘out’ (transfer to the aliens’ register) and (3) automatic deletion.