Population: size and growth


Statbel, processed by Statistics Flanders

Eurostat – Population and social conditions


Central cities: As part of its urban policy, the Flemish government designated 13 'central cities'. These are Aalst, Antwerp, Bruges, Genk, Ghent, Hasselt, Kortrijk, Leuven, Mechelen, Ostend, Roeselare, Sint-Niklaas and Turnhout.

Legally resident population: The data source Statbel reports on the 'legally resident population', which is based on the National Register of Natural Persons. By default, it shows the situation on the 1st of January of the calendar year and is based on the entries in the population register (Belgians and foreigners who are authorised to reside in Belgium) and the foreign nationals register (foreigners who are allowed or authorised to stay in Belgium for more than 3 months for a fixed or indefinite period of time). Certain categories of foreigners (e.g. diplomatic and consular staff) are exempt from registration in the population registers. In some cases they may be registered at their own request. They are only included in the population figures in this case.

The National Register also includes the waiting register for asylum seekers in which asylum seekers are registered ‘who declare themselves to be refugees or who apply to be recognised as refugees’. In addition, there is the waiting register for EU citizens pending a housing inspection (after which they are registered in the foreign nationals register and counted in the population figures).

Details about the population of the 300 Flemish municipalities (after the merger of 15 to 7 municipalities (or 8 less than before) as of 1/01/2019) can easily be consulted on the Statbel website: see Statbel > Population > Structure of the population.

Since 1995, persons registered in the waiting register for asylum seekers are no longer included in the population figures of Statbel. Asylum seekers are only included in the population statistics of Statbel once they are transferred from the waiting register for asylum seekers to the regular population register after recognition as a refugee, after granting a subsidiary protection status or after obtaining a residence permit for another reason.

Usually resident population: The Eurostat data source reports on the 'usually resident population', i.e. the population usually residing in the declared territory (country/region/municipality). The 'usual residence' in particular refers to the place where a person normally lives, regardless of temporary absences for reasons of recreation, leave, visits to friends or acquaintances, working conditions, medical care or religious pilgrimages. Only the following residents are considered usual residents: 1) persons who have been living in the place of residence for more than 12 months before the reference period (1st of January of the indicated year), and 2) persons who have arrived within the last 12 months before the reference period with the intention of staying there for more than one year (see Regulation (EC) No. 862/2007 of the European Parliament and the Council on community statistics on migration and international protection).

Waiting register for asylum seekers: In the waiting register for asylum seekers (by the Immigration Department (DVZ)) foreign nationals are registered 'who declare themselves to be refugees or who apply to be recognised as refugees'. Since 1995, persons registered in the waiting register for asylum seekers are no longer included in the population data of Statbel (Act of 24 May 1994 establishing a waiting register for foreign nationals who declare themselves to be refugees or who apply to be recognised as refugees). Only when asylum seekers are transferred from the waiting register for asylum seekers to a regular population register after being recognised as refugees, after being granted subsidiary protection status or after acquiring a residence permit for another reason, are they included in Statbel's population statistics.

The European provision stresses that asylum seekers are also included, at least if they can prove a long-term stay or registration in the receiving country (>12 months) or at least have the intention to stay for a long period. In practice, the EU Member States use various methods to comply – more or less - with the European provisions on the 'usually resident population' and 'international migrations'.

From 2011 onwards, Belgium as a member state reports to Eurostat on the 'usually resident population' according to the European definition. The Belgian usually resident population has slightly more members than the 'legally resident population'.

An estimate of the number of 'long-term' persons in the waiting register for asylum seekers can be obtained by making the difference between the 'usually resident population' of Eurostat and the 'legally resident population' of Statbel.

Population density: average number of inhabitants per area unit (by default per km²). The Belgian statistics from Statbel take into account the total area of the indicated geographical unit. However, Eurostat recommends that only the land mass should be taken into account (cf. the Corine Land Cover Project; see: https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/COR0-landcover).

The discussion concerning the surface area to be taken into account is conducted in Belgium within the framework of the GT Inspire working group, of which the Flemish government's Information Flanders administration is also a member.

Note that as of 1/01/2018 new surface areas (per municipality) have been taken into account, about which Statbel reports on its public website as follows:

“Until 2017, the calculation of the total surface area was based on files from the land register of the FPS Finances. The data contained in this database were originally defined during the Napoleonic era (when the land register was created).

From 2018 onwards, the total surface areas come from the CADGIS database of the FPS Finances. The data contained in this database are based on the most recent measuring techniques. The total surface areas are now also in line with international conventions and guidelines from Eurostat, the European statistical office. This is why, for the ten coastal municipalities, the surface area from the coast to the low-water line has been taken into account. This new calculation method only affects total surface areas not included in the land register.”

Source: Statbel, housing à  Land use according to the land register, consulted 4/02/2020.

Flemish Community: Includes all inhabitants of the Flemish Region and also a number of  inhabitants of the Brussels-Capital Region. To this end, in 1999 the then Flemish government proposed the so-called 'Brussels standard', first as a budgetary standard, then as a population standard. The Brussels standard is based on the assumption that a certain segment of the population in Brussels belongs to the Flemish Community. The financing of this target group that the Flemish Community wants to reach in Brussels is proportional to the size of this group compared to the total population in the Flemish Region.

Source: De Blander R., Janssens R., Kavadias D. (2019). Financing memorandum Brussels. Brussels Information, Documentation and Research Centre, BRIO Working Paper 2019/5.

Components of population growth: These include the natural balance (balance of births and deaths), the international (external) migration balance (balance of arrivals and departures to/from abroad), the domestic (internal) migration balance (balance of arrivals and departures to/from the other regions of Belgium), as measured during the calendar year. All balances added to the population on 1 January (t) should give the position of the population on 1/01/(t+1). The difference that remains is the 'statistical adjustment', which refers to late declarations of these events (birth, death, migration) to the civil status records that could not yet be noticed. The smaller the statistical adjustment, the better the quality of the observation system. The graph does not include this statistical adjustment, but as a rule it is very limited (<0.01%).

Remarks on quality

European statistics lack the quality of a closed logical system that is characteristic of Belgian population statistics. The latter, however, show a blind spot for the non-legal resident population (asylum seekers, so-called “people without papers”, transit migrants, etc.). Statbel reports: "Persons of another nationality who have been staying in our country for less than three months, or who are in an irregular situation, and asylum seekers, are not included in the population figure".

The intentional component in the definition of the 'usually resident population' in  European Regulation (EC) no. 862/2007 means that sometimes only approximations can be provided for many Member States, see the Eurostat website: ‘Member States may estimate the total usually resident population referred to in paragraph 1 from the legally resident or registered population using scientifically-based, well-documented, and publicly available statistical estimation methods.’

For more information from Statbel on the 'Calculation of the population according to the Belgian and European definition'; see Statbel's public website -> Population > Structure of the population > Metadata.


National Register: website

Statbel: Population

Eurostat: Eurostat: Population and social conditions


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