Population movement

During the past year, the Belgian population grew by 28,597 inhabitants

Population
During the past year, the Belgian population grew by 28,597 inhabitants

On 1 January 2021, Belgium[1] 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.

 

POPULATION GROWTH

In 2020, the Belgian population increased by 28,597 inhabitants. This increase in population can be explained by two demographic phenomena[2]:

  • 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.

Population growthPopulation 2021

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[3] and emigration[4] 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:

  1. Belgians (who return to Belgium after a stay abroad)
  2. Romanians
  3. French
  4. Dutch
  5. Italians

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 provinces

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
Belgium 11,492,641 -13,111 0 41,756 -48 28,597 11,521,238
Brussels-Capital Region 1,218,255 4,863 -17,319 13,635 536 1,715 1,219,970
Flemish Region 6,629,143 -8,121 12,590 20,098 -648 23,919 6,653,062
Walloon Region 3,645,243 -9,853 4,729 8,023 64 2,963 3,648,206
German-speaking Community 77,949 -47 46 195 1 195 78,144
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


[1] 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

[2] 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.

[3] 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).

[4] Emigration consists of three movements: (1) classic international emigration, (2) change of register ‘out’ (transfer to the aliens’ register) and (3) automatic deletion.

Belgium & Regions
Content

Population movement 2020

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
Belgium 11,492,641 -13,111 0 41,756 -48 28,597 11,521,238
Brussels-Capital Region 1,218,255 4,863 -17,319 13,635 536 1,715 1,219,970
Flemish Region 6,629,143 -8,121 12,590 20,098 -648 23,919 6,653,062
Walloon Region 3,645,243 -9,853 4,729 8,023 64 2,963 3,648,206
German-speaking Community 77,949 -47 46 195 1 195 78,144
Provinces
Content

Population movement in 2020 per province

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

Purpose and brief description

The population movement contains statistics that make it possible to explain the evolution of the residential population, as registered in the National Register of Natural Persons (RNPP).

These statistics concern the change in the residential population, as registered in the National Register of Natural Persons (RNPP), during one reference year. The Belgian population is composed of Belgians and non-Belgians admitted or authorised to settle or stay on the territory, but does not include non-Belgians who stay on the territory for less than 3 months, asylum seekers and non-Belgians in an irregular situation. (Law of 19 July 1991 and law of 1 February 1995)

The number of inhabitants evolves during the year following a number of events, also called “movements”. At Belgian level, the following movements are responsible for a change in the number of inhabitants: births, deaths, international migrations (both immigration and emigration) and changes of nationality. The same movements can also be identified at a lower geographical level, for example at municipal level. At this lower level, an additional movement can be examined: a change of residence in Belgium, which is also called an internal migration.

The changes in the residential population can be derived from the RNPP that is managed by the FPS Home Affairs. The RNPP is an information system and ensures the registration, the storage and the communication of people’s identification data. These data are collected by the municipalities (and the Immigration Office for some categories). The information in the National Register is organised in “information types (IT)”, i.e. the various parts of the legal information. The population movement is determined based on these information types. Statbel is authorised to receive every year some ITs from the National Register in order to fulfil its statistical mission. More information on the various information types in the RNPP is available on the website of the FPS Home Affairs, Directorate General for Institutions and Population.

More figures on international migration movements are available in the theme “migration” on Statbel’s website.

More figures on nationality changes are available in the theme “changes of nationality” on Statbel’s website.

Population

Inwoners in België

Frequency

Yearly.

Timing of publication

Results available 6 months after the reference period

Description of the various population movements

Natural balance

The natural balance of the population is calculated as the number of births minus the number of deaths recorded during a whole reference year. When the number of births is higher than the number of deaths, the natural balance is positive.

Information regarding the number of births can be derived from IT100, the place of birth. In order to determine the number of births during the reference year, the date of birth is taken into account. This date should be in the reference year concerned. The place of birth is also taken into account. The birth must have taken place in a Belgian municipality.

Information on the number of deaths is derived from IT150, place and date of death. In order to determine the number of deaths during the reference year, the date of death and the place where the person was registered at the time of death are taken into account. The death is only taken into account if the person was officially staying in a Belgian municipality (and therefore belonged to the residential population) at the time of death.

Internal migration Balance

The internal migration balance can only be calculated at sub-Belgian level. It concerns people who move out of a municipality to another municipality in Belgium. Such a move can at the same time include moves between arrondissements, provinces and even regions. When more people move in a municipality during the reference year than out of it, the internal migration balance is positive.

Information on the residence is available in the RNPP under IT001 municipality of residence and IT020 address of the main residence. In order to obtain the internal migration balance at municipal level, IT001 suffices to identify the moves between Belgian municipalities.

However, knowing the exact address allows for other applications: for example, the number of moves within the same municipality can be identified, which makes it possible to determine, among other things, the total number of moves in Belgium. In big cities, even moves between various sectors can eventually be identified. See metadata internal migration.

International Migration Balance

The international migration balance is calculated as the number of international immigrations minus the number of international emigrations that have taken place during the reference year. When the number of international immigrations is higher than that of international emigrations, the international migration balance is positive.

International immigration is composed of three distinct movements:

  1. International immigration, available since 1992: IT001, or the municipality of residence is used. A person is considered as an immigrant in Belgium if:
    a.   A registration in a Belgian municipality is available, where the previous registration under IT001 refers to a stay abroad, or;
    b.   This is the very first registration in a Belgian municipality that took place at a later date than the date of birth.
    A person can immigrate to Belgium only once in the current year. This is why IT210, or the mention of the register, is also used to select the correct arrival date.
  2. Re-registration, available since 1992: when a person has been automatically deleted, but later re-registers in a Belgian municipality, we speak of a re-registration. A person is considered as re-registered if:
    a.   A registration in a Belgian municipality is available, where the previous registration under IT001 refers to a deletion of the person, and;
    b.   A time component is also applicable: a person is only considered as deleted if a new registration in a Belgian municipality takes place after 1st March in the following year. If the deletion and re-registration are close to each other, the person is neither considered as deleted nor as re-registered.
  3. Change of register (in), available since 2000: when an asylum seeker is recognized, he is transferred from the waiting register to the aliens' register. This information is available under IT210, mention of the register.

International emigration is also composed of three distinct movements:

  1. Emigration, available since 1992: IT001, or the municipality of residence is used. A person is considered as an emigrant when this person has been registered, during the reference year, as living abroad and where the previous registration under IT001 refers to a stay in a Belgian municipality.
  2. Automatic deletion, available since 1992: IT001, or the municipality of residence is used. A person is considered as automatically deleted when this person has been deleted during the reference year and where the previous registration under IT001 refers to a stay in a Belgian municipality. A time component is also taken into account: the person is only considered as deleted when this person has not been registered in a Belgian municipality before 1st March of the following year.
  3. Changes of register (out), available since 2010: IT210, or the mention of the register, is used. These are people who, during the year, are transferred from any register to the waiting register. These are usually people who are transferred from the aliens' register to the waiting register.

Statistical Adjustmensts

Ideally, the sum of the various balances should be equal to the change in the population size that we observe between the year Y and the year Y+1. In other words, the population on 1st January of year Y+1 is equal to the sum of the population on 1st January in year Y, the natural balance, the internal migration balance and the international migration balance during year Y.

However, in practice, this is rarely the case. The difference between both is calculated and is called the statistical adjustment. The statistical adjustment gives an indication of the quality for the population figures. The statistical adjustments are in the order of a thousand units. Out of a total of hundreds of thousands of registrations that determine the population movement throughout the year, this can be called a minimum error rate.

Changes of nationalities

The acquisition and granting of the Belgian nationality are complex legal matters. Statbel’s approach for the calculation of nationality changes is very simple: someone changes his/her nationality when his/her nationality as registered under IT031 of the RNPP changes.
Therefore, we only take into account the people for whom another nationality was already registered. Persons who acquire the Belgian nationality when no previous nationality has been registered are not included in these statistics.

This definition, although without any real legal content, covers a large number of legal categories from the Code of Belgian Nationality (naturalisation, acquisition by declaration, etc.). The condition of having a previous nationality means that a number of situations are not included in this statistic. This is largely the case, for example, when the Belgian nationality is granted based on the nationality of the father or the mother (Art. 8 of the Law of 4 December 2012 and previous laws). Usually, no previous nationality is registered in this case.

The nationality is registered in the National Register under “information type 031”. For more information about the acquisition of the nationality and the “information type 031”, please visit the websites of the FPS Home Affairs - Directorate General for Institutions and Population and of the FPS Justice.

Growth and index

The growth is the absolute change in the number of inhabitants. In other words, it is equal to the sum of the various balances, i.e. the natural balance, the internal migration balance and the international migration balance. A positive figure indicates a growth of the population, a negative figure refers to a decline in the population.

The index in year Y is calculated as follows: the growth in the reference year Y is divided by the population on 1st January in the year Y and multiplied by 100 (the population growth rate during the year Y). This figure is then added to 100. An index higher than 100 refers to a population growth, an index lower than 100 indicates a population decline. The farther the number is from 100, the sharper is the growth or decline of the population.

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