Employment and unemployment

72.1% of people aged 20-64 were employed in 2023

Work & training
72.1% of people aged 20-64 were employed in 2023

72.1% of people aged 20-64 have a job, compared to 71.9% in 2022. This is what emerged from the annual results of the Labour Force Survey (LFS) published by Statbel, the Belgian statistical office. In order to achieve an employment rate of 80% by 2030, there must be some 550,000 additional employed people in the age group 20-64[i].

75.9% of men aged 20-64 have a job, compared to 68.3% of women in this age group. In 2023, 4,879,000 persons aged 20-64 were employed. 76.8% of people aged 20-64 have a job in Flanders, versus 66.5% in Brussels and 65.5% in Wallonia. For the first time since the 1990s, the annual employment rate in Brussels is higher than in Wallonia. We register the highest employment rates in West Flanders and East Flanders: in both provinces, 79% of the 20-64-year-olds are employed.

The ILO unemployment rate amounts to 5.6% in 2023. This is the same figure as last year. The unemployment rate of men is estimated at 6.0% and that of women at 5.1%. In Brussels, where the unemployment rate has decreased fairly sharply in recent years, 10.7% of the labour force is ILO unemployed. The unemployment rate amounts to 8.2% in Wallonia and 3.3% in Flanders. Three Flemish provinces register an unemployment rate of around 3%: West Flanders, East Flanders and Limburg.

Nearly a quarter (23.9%) of people aged 20-64 are not economically active in 2023. These are people with no job, who were not actively looking for work during the reference month about which they were interviewed and/or were not available to start working within two weeks. The inactivity rate of people aged 20-64 stands at 19.5% among men and 28.3% among women. Just like for the employment and unemployment rates, we observe large differences in the inactivity rates per region and province. The percentage of not economically active 20-64-year-olds amounts to 20.8% in Flanders, 25.7% in Brussels and 28.9% in Wallonia. Only West (18.7%) and East Flanders (19.1%) have an inactivity rate among people aged 20-64 under 20%.

After the first annual results, the results for the fourth quarter are known: the employment rate of people aged 20-64 further increases in the fourth quarter 2023 to 72.6%, compared to 72.2% in the third quarter 2023 and 72.3% in the fourth quarter 2022. The ILO unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 is estimated at 5.5% in the fourth quarter 2023, compared to 5.6% in the third quarter 2023 and 5.7% in the fourth quarter of 2022.

You will find more details below about both the annual results, more detailed quarterly and annual figures can be found in the figures tab.

Fairly stable labour market indicators in 2023

The employment rate of people aged 20-64 goes from 71.9% in 2022 to 72.1% in 2023

When the results of the fourth quarter of 2023 became available, the first annual results can also be calculated as averages of the four quarterly results for 2023.

In 2023, 72.1% of people aged 20-64 had a job. This represents a slight increase compared to 2022 when the employment rate amounted to 71.9%. 75.9% of men aged 20-64 have a job, compared to 68.3% of women in this age group.

If we look at the employment rate over time (Chart 1), we can see that it has shown a slight upward trend over the past two decades. The percentage amounted to 65.8% in 2000, to 67.6% in 2010 and to 70% in 2020 (Chart 1). In 2021 and 2022, the employment rate has increased sharply, to 70.6% in 2021 and 71.9% in 2022, and to 72.1% in 2023.

Belgium has set itself the objective of an employment rate of 80% by 2030. In order to achieve that objective, some 550,000 additional persons aged 20-64 need to be employed. 4,879,000 people aged 20-64 are currently employed. If we look at the population aged 15 and over, this is 5,028,000 employed people.

For the first time since the 1990s, the employment rate in Brussels in 2023 is higher than in Wallonia

With an employment rate of 76.8%, Flanders is the closest to the 80% target. Brussels and Wallonia follow well behind with an employment rate of 66.5% and 65.5% respectively. The employment rate in Brussels has sharply increased these past three years and is in 2023, for the first time since the 1990s, higher than in Wallonia (Chart 1).

East and West Flanders have the highest employment rate

We also see large differences in the employment rate at provincial level. West and East Flanders both register an employment rate of about 79%. Two other Flemish provinces rank 3rd and 4th: Limburg and Antwerp. Hainaut and Liège have the lowest employment rate. In both provinces, some 63% of people aged 20-64 are employed.

The unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 has stabilised at 5.6% in 2023

In 2023, the ILO unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 amounts to 5.6%, which is the same figure as in 2022. The unemployment rate for men is estimated at 6.0% and that for women at 5.1%.

The unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 has decreased fairly sharply in Brussels and amounts to 10.7% in 2023. In Wallonia, 8.2% of the economically active are ILO unemployed, compared to 3.3% in Flanders.

Three Flemish provinces register an unemployment rate of around 3%

In West Flanders, East Flanders and Limburg, about 3% of the active population aged 15 to 64 are ILO unemployed. The provinces of Antwerp and Flemish Brabant follow close behind. At the bottom of the ranking, we find Brussels with an unemployment rate of 10.7%. In Hainaut and Liège, the unemployment rate is slightly more than 9%.

The inactivity rate of people aged 20-64 amounts to 23.9% in 2023

Employed and unemployed people make up the labour force. The part of the population that does not have a job and that is not actively looking for work and/or that is not available to start working within two weeks is the non-economically active population, also called the inactive population. This non-economically active population is quite diverse and includes students if they did not work during the reference week, housewives and househusbands, the retired and the incapacitated. In 2023, 23.9% of the population aged 20-64 was not economically active. That percentage amounts to 19.5% for men and 28.3% for women. Since 2000, the percentage of non-economically active men remained fairly stable, around 20%. The inactivity rate of women has decreased from 38.9% in 2000 to 28.3% in 2023 (Chart 3).

Inactivity rate of people aged 20-64 per region

The Belgian inactivity rate remains fairly stable compared to 2022, but we do observe various evolutions depending on the region. The percentage of non-economically active 20-64-year-olds goes from 21.0% to 20.8% in Flanders, from 26.5% to 25.7% in Brussels and from 28.6% to 28.9% in Wallonia.

The inactivity rate of people aged 20-64 per province varies between 18.7% and 31.1% in 2023

Only the inactivity rates of West Flanders (18.7%) and East Flanders (19.1%) are below 20%. Two provinces register an inactivity rate of more than 30%. These are the provinces Liège (31.0%) and Hainaut (31.1%).

Methodological note

The reported figures are estimations based on a sample survey. They are based on an effective sample of about 28,100 persons (respondents) between 15 and 89 years old in the fourth quarter of 2023. This represents about 14,000 respondents in Flanders, 10,700 in Wallonia and 3,400 in Brussels. For the year 2023, this is an effective sample of about 108,500 persons aged 15 to 89: about 54,500 respondents in Flanders, 40,500 in Wallonia and 13,500 in Brussels.

The Labour Force Survey is a continuous survey, which means that the sample is evenly spread over the 52 (reference) weeks of the year. The selected respondents answer a questionnaire mainly related to their activity in the course of a given reference week. The data presented here reflect the averages for the quarter or the year.

The principle of a sample survey implies that the results from that sample are used for an estimate of the values in the entire population (=the population). Because it is an estimate, a certain degree of uncertainty must be taken into account. With a different sample it is possible to reach a slightly different value. This degree of accuracy is expressed as a “confidence interval” around the estimated value. The smaller the interval, the more accurate our statements. The confidence intervals for the employment and unemployment rates in the fourth quarter of 2023 per gender and region are available in annexes 1 and 2. The confidence intervals for the annual employment, unemployment and inactivity rates for Belgium, the regions and the provinces are available in annexes 3 to 5.

Definitions

The survey is harmonised at European level. The definitions regarding employment and unemployment that are mentioned (see tab ‘documents’) are those of the International Labour Office (ILO) to allow international comparison.

The employment rate of people aged 20-64 is the share of persons employed in the total population aged 20 to 64.

The unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 is the share of unemployed people in the labour force (employed + unemployed) aged 15 to 64.

The inactivity rate of people aged 20-64 is the share of non-economically active persons in the total population aged 20 to 64.

Annexes

Annex 1: Confidence intervals for the employment rate of people aged 20-64 year-olds (Q4 2023)

  Estimate Confidence interval
Lower limit Upper limit
Belgium 72.6% 71.9% 73.3%
Men 76.4% 75.5% 77.3%
Women 68.8% 67.8% 69.8%
Brussels-Capital Region 66.7% 64.6% 68.7%
Flemish Region 77.0% 76.1% 77.9%
Walloon Region 66.7% 65.4% 68.0%

Annex 2: Confidence intervals for the unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 year-olds (Q4 2023)

  Estimate Confidence interval
Lower limit Upper limit
Belgium 5.5% 5.1% 6.0%
Men 5.8% 5.2% 6.4%
Women 5.2% 4.6% 5.9%
Brussels-Capital Region 10.2% 8.6% 11.8%
Flemish Region 3.5% 3.0% 3.9%
Walloon Region 8.0% 7.0% 9.0%

Annex 3: Confidence intervals for the employment rate of people aged 20-64 year-olds (2023)

  Estimate Confidence interval
Lower limit Upper limit
Belgium 72.1% 71.6% 72.6%
Brussels-Capital Region 66.5% 65.1% 68.0%
Flemish Region 76.8% 76.2% 77.4%
Walloon Region 65.5% 64.5% 66.4%
Province of Antwerp 75.7% 74.4% 77.1%
Province of West Flanders 79.3% 78.2% 80.3%
Province of East Flanders 78.9% 77.6% 80.3%
Province of Hainaut 62.6% 60.9% 64.3%
Province of Liège 63.0% 61.1% 64.8%
Province of Limburg 76.4% 74.9% 77.9%
Province of Luxembourg 70.6% 68.8% 72.3%
Province of Namur 68.2% 66.2% 70.2%
Province of Flemish Brabant 73.7% 72.1% 75.2%
Province of Walloon Brabant 74.6% 72.7% 76.4%

Annex 4: Confidence intervals for the unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 year-olds (2023)

  Estimate Confidence interval
Lower limit Upper limit
Belgium 5.6% 5.3% 5.9%
Brussels-Capital Region 10.7% 9.5% 12.0%
Flemish Region 3.3% 3.1% 3.6%
Walloon Region 8.2% 7.6% 8.9%
Province of Antwerp 3.6% 3.0% 4.2%
Province of West Flanders 2.8% 2.3% 3.3%
Province of East Flanders 2.9% 2.3% 3.4%
Province of Hainaut 9.3% 8.0% 10.6%
Province of Liège 9.2% 7.9% 10.5%
Province of Limburg 3.2% 2.5% 3.8%
Province of Luxembourg 6.6% 5.6% 7.5%
Province of Namur 6.7% 5.5% 7.9%
Province of Flemish Brabant 4.3% 3.5% 5.0%
Province of Walloon Brabant 5.8% 4.7% 6.9%

Annex 5: Confidence intervals for the inactivity rate of people aged 20-64 year-olds (2023)

  Estimate Confidence interval
Lower limit Upper limit
Belgium 23.9% 23.4% 24.3%
Brussels-Capital Region 25.7% 24.5% 27.0%
Flemish Region 20.8% 20.2% 21.4%
Walloon Region 28.9% 28.1% 29.8%
Province of Antwerp 21.6% 20.3% 22.9%
Province of West Flanders 18.7% 17.7% 19.7%
Province of East Flanders 19.1% 17.8% 20.4%
Province of Hainaut 31.1% 29.5% 32.7%
Province of Liège 31.0% 29.3% 32.7%
Province of Limburg 21.5% 20.1% 22.9%
Province of Luxembourg 24.8% 23.2% 26.4%
Province of Namur 27.2% 25.4% 29.0%
Province of Flemish Brabant 23.2% 21.8% 24.6%
Province of Walloon Brabant 21.0% 19.3% 22.7%

 


[i] Belgium has set an employment rate of 80% by 2030. To reach this target, some additional 550,000 20-64-year-olds need to be employed. This took into account the latest population projections for 2030 for that age group (= denominator of the employment rate). Currently, there are 4,879,000 20-64-year-olds in employment. Looking at the population aged 15 years and over, there are 5,028,000 working people.

Labour force survey (LFS)

Purpose and short description

The Labour Force Survey (LFS) is a household sample survey, conducted throughout the year. It is based on the responses of approximately 110,000 persons aged 15-89. Its main objective is to classify the population of 15-89 years into three groups (employed, unemployed and inactive persons on the labous market) and to provide descriptive and explanatory data on every category. This survey is also carried out in the other EU Member States and is coordinated by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. In Belgium, the LFS is organised by Statbel. The objective is to obtain comparable information at European level, in particular as regards employment and unemployment rates as defined by the International Labour Office (ILO), but also to collect and disseminate data that are otherwise not available, for example about the mobility of workers, the reasons for working part-time, the various forms of part-time employment, the occupation, the educational level of the working age population, ... .

Survey population

Members of private households aged 15-89.

Sample frame

Demographic data from the National Register.

Data collection method and sample size

Data are collected through face-to-face interviews for the first wave of the survey. Since 2017, there have been three (shorter) follow-up waves to which households respond online or by telephone.

Households with only inactive persons older than 64 can also be interviewed by telephone.

Every year, around 34,000 households take part in this survey.

Response rate

On average, the response rate in the first wave of the survey is around 68% and in the follow-up waves between 90% and 95%.

Periodicity

Quarterly

Release calendar

Results availability: around 3 months after the end of the reference period.

Forms

Definitions regarding employment and unemployment

The survey is harmonised at European level. The definitions regarding employment and unemployment that are mentioned are those of the International Labour Office (ILO) to allow international comparison.

  • People with a job (employed people) comprise all people who during the reference week performed some work ‘for wage or salary’ or ‘for profit’ regardless of the duration (even if this was only one hour), or who had a job but were temporarily absent. For example, one can be temporarily absent for holidays, illness, technical or economic reasons (temporary unemployment),....

Family workers are also included in the category ‘employed’.

Since 2021, people who have been temporarily unemployed for an uninterrupted period of more than three months are counted as unemployed or inactive, and no longer as employed.

  • The unemployed comprise all people who:

(a) during the reference week were without work, i.e. were not in paid employment or self-employment;

(b) were available for work, i.e. were available for paid employment or self-employment within two weeks after the reference week;

(c) were actively seeking work, i.e. had taken specific steps during the last four weeks including the reference week to seek paid employment or self-employment, or who had found a job to start within a maximum period of three months.

Please note: The ILO unemployment figures are unrelated to any possible registration with the VDAB, Actiris, FOREM or the ADG, or to the receipt of unemployment benefits from ONEM (National Employment Office). As a result, they cannot be compared with administrative unemployment figures.

  • The labour force is made up of the employed and the unemployed.
  • The economically inactive population comprises all people who were not considered as employed or unemployed.
  • The employment rate represents employed persons as a percentage of the same age population. 
  • The employment rate as part of the Europe 2020 Strategy represents the share of persons employed in the population aged 20 to 64. 
  • The unemployment rate represents the share of unemployed people in the labour force (employed + unemployed) within a given age group.
  • The economic activity rate represents the share of the labour force (employed + unemployed) in the total population within a given age group.

The above indicators (employment rate, unemployment rate and economic activity rate) are the most important indicators for international comparisons of the labour market evolution.

Low-skilled people are people who have at best a lower secondary education diploma. Medium-skilled people have obtained an upper secondary education diploma, but no higher education diploma. High-skilled people have a higher education diploma.

Metadata

  • Employment, unemployment, labour market (NL-FR)
  • Labour force survey (LFS) (NL-FR)

Survey methodology

Regulations

  • Royal Decree of 10 January 1999 on the organisation of a labour force sample survey (NL-FR)
  • Royal decree amending the royal decree of 10 January 1999 on the organisation of a labour force sample survey (NL-FR)