Demography of enterprises in the market sector

Most employees in wholesale and retail trade

Most employees in wholesale and retail trade

The sector of manufacturing and market services had in 2020 716,313 enterprises , of which 185,407 had at least one employee. These enterprises employed on average 12.9 employees, i.e. a total of 2,391,327 employees.

In 2020, 49,442 enterprises were set up in manufacturing and market services, 6,544 of which employed at least one employee.

Most employees in wholesale and retail trade, closely followed by manufacturing and administration

There were 529,398 employees in wholesale and retail trade in 2020, 473,028 in manufacturing, 387,492 in administrative and support service activities and 215,610 in construction.

Wholesale and retail trade had the most enterprises with at least one employee

Among enterprises employing at least one employee, wholesale and retail trade is the most represented sector with 28.1 %, followed by construction (15.8 %) and accommodation and food service activities (12.9 %).

Largest share of one-person enterprises in professional activities

The share of one-person enterprises (so with no employee) is the largest in professional, scientific and technical activities (28.1%), followed by wholesale and retail trade (18.0 %) and construction (18.2 %).


The year 2018 is marked by a methodological change with the complete introduction of the concept of enterprise based on the groups of enterprises. More information on the documentation page.

[1] Manufacturing and market services, excluding holdings and excluding profit organisations in the education / human health and social work activities / arts, entertainment and recreation / other service activities (NACE P-S).

Methodological note

Note on the 2019 data

The number of persons employed in 2019 shows a sharp increase compared to 2018. This is due to a revision of the method for the calculation of the number of persons employed. Moreover, from 2018 onwards, our knowledge of enterprise groups (see Multinational Groups in Belgium) is improving. This has an impact on the breakdown into enterprises and may be visible in some sectors.


The year 2018 is marked by a methodological change with the complete introduction of the concept of enterprise based on the groups of enterprises. This leads to a break in the series, which will be more or less marked according to the sector, depending on whether or not there is a significant number of groups in this sector. So, the developments between 2017 and 2018 are a mix of natural growth of the economy but also of the decrease as a result of the aggregation of several legal units into one enterprise.

This year is also marked by a break in the definition of the market sector.

Previously this definition was the result of an analysis of the institutional sector, the economic activity and the legal form. Now it is the result of the analysis of the institutional sector alone (see

The introduction of this new approach resulted in the non-publication of figures relating to sectors P to S. These are the sectors for which the new definition has the greatest impact. This postponement is motivated by the need to carry out consistency/coherence analyses with other related publications which cannot be carried out definitively now. For information, the market sector is defined on the basis of the institutional sector. The institutional sectors S11 (non-financial corporations), S12 (financial corporations) and S14 (households) are referred to as market sectors and the sectors S13 (government) and S15 (non-profit institutions serving households) are referred to as non-market sectors. This 1-1 relationship is a rule proposed by Eurostat. It should be noted that some exceptions remain.

In addition, it should be noted that the employment figures are rounded off at each stage, the initial calculation being an annual average of the employment per legal unit. The user should not be surprised when browsing that the totals are not equal to within the unit.

Enterprise demography provides information on the activity, the employment and the legal form of enterprises active in Belgium. Enterprises are made up of legal entities for which an economic activity of at least one day per year has been established based on administrative files (NSSO, VAT, annual accounts,...). They usually correspond to one single legal entity, but in some cases, it is necessary to regroup several entities to comply with the European definition (set in the Regulation of 1993 on the statistical units), particularly in terms of autonomy. This statistic also provides the economic births and deaths in Belgium.

Particular attention should be paid to the following concepts:

  • Enterprise: smallest possible combination of legal units.
  • Legal form: due to the possible regrouping of legal units and for the sake of comparability between European countries, the granularity of the European nomenclature is less fine than the national nomenclature. Only three ‘legal forms’ are distinguished here: SP (Sole Proprietor), LL (Limited Liability) and PA (Partnership and Associates).
  • A birth in the year T is defined as an enterprise that is economically active in T, inactive in both T-1 and T-2 and that is not the result of a restructuring in the period [T-2,T].
  • A death in the year T is defined as an enterprise that has been economically active for at least one day in T, inactive in both T+1 and T+2 and that did not stop because of a restructuring during the period [T,T+2].
  • In order to determine the number of persons employed, the number of employees (heads) plus self-employment is determined according to the rule of Eurostat based on the legal form. In the case of a breakdown by employment categories, only those of the employees are used.

Furthermore, it should be noted that the figures provided here are different from those of the VAT-registered units. This for methodological reasons, including:

  • The universe is not the same: the cube on VAT-registered units only takes into account the legal units subject to VAT, while here, the universe is built based on all active enterprises (VAT or not).
  • The NACE coverage is different.
  • Here, VAT registration is not considered a sufficient sign of activity. Indeed, it is necessary to have a positive turnover in a VAT return. Thus, a legal unit subject to VAT, which has never really been active and which stops will NEVER be counted in the demography, neither in the stock, nor as birth, nor as death.

Also for methodological reasons, the differences with Structural Business Statistics should be noted. The main reason is that the latter is based on a survey whereas here only administrative data are used. Finally, it should also be noted that the base populations of these two statistics are photographed at two different times.