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2009

The population of Brussels: a demographic overview

Synopsis, CFB No. 3
La population bruxelloise : un éclairage démographique
De Brusselse bevolking: een demografische doorlichting
Patrick Deboosere, Thierry Eggerickx, Etienne Van Hecke et Benjamin Wayens
Traduction de Mike Bramley
Traduction(s) :
La population bruxelloise : un éclairage démographique
De Brusselse bevolking: een demografische doorlichting

Résumés

La Région de Bruxelles-Capitale comprend 19 communes sur une superficie de 161,4 km². La Région constitue le noyau d’une agglomération morphologique bien plus vaste qui compte 36 communes au total et une population de plus d’un million et demi d’habitants. Au 1er janvier 2008, les chiffres officiels de la population de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale atteignaient 1 048 491 habitants. La population bruxelloise est la plus jeune du pays, avec une moyenne d’âge de 37,8 ans en 2006. Au cours du siècle et demi passé, le développement démographique de Bruxelles est resté fortement dominé par les migrations. Ce phénomène ne se dément pas aujourd’hui. La capitale a vu sa population s’accroître au cours des dernières années et, comme pour toutes les grandes villes d’Europe, sa composition s’internationaliser fortement. Le dernier recensement (enquête socio-économique de 2001) permet de tenir compte de la nationalité d’origine de la population. Suivant ce critère, Bruxelles ne comptait pas moins de 45 nationalités différentes avec au moins 1 000 habitants. Depuis lors, la composition s’est encore diversifiée et la population originaire des pays de l’Union européenne a augmenté. La Région se caractérise par une nette différenciation spatiale entre les quartiers pauvres, les quartiers mixtes et les quartiers aisés. La structure de base de cette ségrégation spatiale selon le statut socio-économique a des racines historiques anciennes et est frappée d’une inertie certaine. Toutefois, l’arrivée de nouveaux habitants, la réalisation de grands travaux dans un certain nombre de quartiers, la spéculation immobilière et l’augmentation des prix du logement modifient petit à petit la composition de la population de certains quartiers. Nous esquissons ci-dessous les principales tendances démographiques qui influenceront la composition de la ville dans les décennies à venir.

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Notes de la rédaction

(corr. 17 March 2009)

Texte intégral

Observations

Brussels: a city of immigrants

1Brussels is a typical city of immigrants; people who were born outside Brussels and who, at a certain time in their lives, came to live in Brussels. In 1991, 50.8% of Brussels inhabitants were born in Brussels. Restricting ourselves to Brussels inhabitants aged 18 and over, this figure becomes 42.5%. In 2001, the share of Brussels inhabitants actually born in Brussels decreased slightly to 49.8% and 40.3% respectively, under the influence of recent higher immigration figures. The majority of Brussels inhabitants who were born outside the region come from abroad. In 2001, 31.7% of Brussels inhabitants were born abroad, 8.4% in Flanders and 10.1% in Wallonia.

Brussels: the most important gateway for international migration

2Migration constitutes the most important demographic factor in the population composition of the Brussels region. Although a natural increase in the population has been the most important factor in population growth since 2003, migration flows continue to be the largest influence on the region’s composition. Each year, the region loses part of its population through internal migration, but experiences population growth due to international migration. Approximately one third of the population exchange between Belgium and other countries occurs through Brussels. The balance of international migration (the difference between inflow and outflow from and to other countries) was distributed across the regions in 2006 as follows: 17 588 people for Brussels, 21 546 for Flanders and 10 402 for Wallonia.

Brussels: an important factor in the internal migration flows within Belgium

3Due to continuous international inflow, Brussels makes an important contribution to the dynamic of internal migrations within Belgium. For decades, Brussels has experienced a negative net domestic migration balance. More inhabitants leave the capital city for the rest of the country than the number moving to Brussels from Flanders and Wallonia. As this mainly involves families with young children, this outflow contributes to the population growth and rejuvenation of the population in Flanders and Wallonia. Having remained relatively low from the middle of the 1990s onwards, this negative balance has once again risen above 10 000 people for a number of years.

The migration flows lead to a permanent rejuvenation of the adult population within the city

  • 1 The data in this paragraph were corrected on 17 March 2009.

4Net migration only provides the balance of very extensive annual movements. For example, the negative domestic migration balance is the final result of nearly 60 000 annual movements between Brussels and the rest of Belgium. In 2005, no less than 21 351 people settled in Brussels from Flanders and Wallonia. The outflow for the same year amounted to 33 798 people, resulting in a negative domestic migration balance of 12 447 people. It is important to note that this exchange with Flanders and Wallonia is not neutral in terms of age and household status.1

5The inflow predominantly consists of young people who are often single and who will mostly rent accommodation. The outflow is dominated by slightly older age groups (see graph 1). More often than not, this involves households with children; which is shown on the graph in negative migration balances above 30 years and under 15 years. The limited availability of affordable (and relatively comfortable) private housing is the most important motivation for moving out of the capital city. Within the Brussels-Capital Region, the relocation intensity also differs substantially according to the district (see map 1).

Graph 1. Migration according to age: Brussels-Capital Region 2005

Graph 1. Migration according to age: Brussels-Capital Region 2005

National Register, ADSEI, courtesy of Interface Demography

Map 1. Geographical mobility indicator 1/10/1996 ‑ 1/10/2001

Map 1. Geographical mobility indicator 1/10/1996 ‑ 1/10/2001

6The areas with the highest levels of residential mobility fall within the pentagon and the adjacent districts in the south-eastern quadrant, in the European district and in the direction of the university campuses. The important migration flows between Brussels and the outside world do not impede the fact that more than half the population remain living relatively stable in the Brussels region. Geographical patterns show that this is partly the population that has sufficient purchasing power to buy a decent home in a pleasant residential area. However, there is also relatively low relocation intensity in Molenbeek, Schaarbeek/Schaerbeek and Sint-Joost-ten-Node/Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, possibly as a result of the relative immobility within which the less affluent population groups find themselves.

Brussels: a centre of attraction for young adults

7The age structure of the immigration shows that mainly young people come to live in the capital city. The educational position of Brussels obviously plays an important role in this as many stay living in Brussels after graduating. Young employees, especially at an age when they do not yet have children, constitute another important group who come to live in the capital city in close proximity to their work. The international migration is also mainly young. Both the migration of EU citizens as well as non-EU citizens has a predominantly young age structure. The result is an over-representation of young adults in Brussels compared to the rest of the country.

8The age structure of the (internal and international) migrants has an important impact on the age structure of the Brussels population. Brussels is the only region in which a relative rejuvenation of the population (slight increase in the share of those younger than 20 years and decrease in the share of those aged 60 and above) has been established. In 1991, the Brussels region was still the oldest region, whilst today it is the youngest, having therefore undergone a radical reversal over the course of the past 15 years. Large differences have been established between the various municipalities or districts within the region, such that the Brussels region today encompasses both the youngest municipality (Sint-Joost-ten-Node/Saint-Josse-ten-Noode) as well as one of the oldest municipalities (Ganshoren) in Belgium.

Suburbanisation: 50 years of migration across and beyond the region’s borders

9Just as in all large urban agglomerations, the 1950s saw the start of suburbanisation in Brussels. This outflow soon extended increasingly beyond the 19 Brussels municipalities and population growth in Brussels came to an end in the middle of the 1960s. The population in the urban agglomeration continued to grow, but from 1965 onwards, this growth took place outside the Brussels region. The international migration was not able to compensate for the internal emigration. As the death rate was also higher than the birth rate, the Brussels region experienced a slow yet persistent population decline. Until 1998, the registered outflow surpassed the total inflow. The region’s borders, which were established along linguistic lines, took no account of the demographic and economic reality. The establishment of the region’s borders automatically turned the urban exodus into relocation away from Brussels. Such residential relocation increasingly took place further from the capital city, with the price of living (affordable rent or affordable private housing) forcing many young families beyond the region’s borders. For those working in Brussels, the daily commute was the trade-off that they had to accept for affordable housing.

Strong population growth

10Population decline came to an end in the Brussels-Capital Region from 1995 onwards. International immigration kept pace with the internal outflow and has even surpassed this on several occasions. However, there is also an important new phenomenon that has emerged in that Brussels has been experiencing natural growth since 1985 (see graph 2).

Graph 2. Factors in the recent evolution within the population of Brussels

Graph 2. Factors in the recent evolution within the population of Brussels

National Register, ADSEI, courtesy of Interface Demography

11The absolute number of deaths has been falling for a number of years because of the declining share of elderly people within the population. Today’s oldest generations were the pioneers of suburbanisation. A smaller share of elderly people together with a slightly increased life expectancy has led to a declining number of deaths. The population’s young age structure also ensures an increasing number of births. The combination of a slightly higher fertility rate among international migrants and a young age structure generates an increasing number of births, year after year. In 1995, the size of the Brussels population reached its lowest level since the Second World War. Since then, the steady progression of natural growth combined with a positive migration balance has ensured strong population growth. According to the population register, the population exceeded the one million mark in 2005. On 1st January 2008, the population stood at 1 048 491 inhabitants. By adding the population that is not officially calculated in the population figure (such as asylum seekers awaiting a judgement who are included in the waiting register), the population of Brussels would undoubtedly exceed the historical maximum of 1968 (1 079 181).

A large number of children grow up in poverty

12An important change in recent population growth rests in the fact that parents with young children tend to remain living in the city.

13Nevertheless, this is not because the city has become more child-friendly. For some households, city life is probably a conscious choice. However, the most important reason is that an increasing number of children are being born to less affluent families for whom suburbanisation to better and more affordable housing is not always possible. This is why the bases of recent Brussels population pyramids are becoming increasingly wider. When the births are broken down per municipality, the strongest growth occurs in the poorer municipalities within the first crown (see table 1). Today, the region’s youngest population lives in these districts with the largest proportion of young children (see map 2). Analysis of birth certificates shows that approximately 28% of children are born into households where parents do not have an income from employment, in the Brussels-Capital Region.

Table 1. Births according to mother’s municipality of residence: 1998 & 2004

Table 1. Births according to mother’s municipality of residence: 1998 & 2004

Birth Certificates, Observatory for Health and Welfare

Map 2. Share of children (0‑4 years) within the total population: Brussels-Capital Region (2001)

Map 2. Share of children (0‑4 years) within the total population: Brussels-Capital Region (2001)

Cartography: VUB – Interface Demography.

Growing diversity

14The composition of the Brussels population is becoming increasingly diverse, but the share of inhabitants that have the Belgian nationality has remained relatively constant over the past few years due to the numerous changes in nationality (see table 2). Since 1st January 1989, there have been more than 200 000 changes in nationality in Brussels, leading to more children being born as Belgians. The share of the Belgian population below the age of 18 is larger than the age groups that belong to the active population. Therefore, nationality is no longer a reliable indicator of the extensive diversity in origin and cultural background of the Brussels population. Taking nationality at birth into account, 46% of the Brussels population is not of Belgian origin. Adding the children that are born as Belgians to parents who migrated, means that more than 50% of the Brussels population comes from abroad or is born to parents who migrated. The population with Moroccan origin forms the most important group in this respect, amounting to almost 13% of the Brussels population in 2001. Over the past few years, the diversity of the country of origin has increased (see table 4), with migrants increasingly coming from East European countries (with Poland and Bulgaria leading) or Sub-Saharan Africa.

Table 2. Total population and share without the Belgian nationality: Brussels-Capital Region 2000‑2008

Table 2. Total population and share without the Belgian nationality: Brussels-Capital Region 2000‑2008

ADSEI

Table 3. Population projections: Brussels-Capital Region 2000‑2060

Table 3. Population projections: Brussels-Capital Region 2000‑2060

Predications 2000‑2006: RR – ADSEI, Calculations FPB; Population Projections 2007‑2060, FPB – ADSEI

Table 4. Average annual migration balance per 1 000 inhabitants according to nationality: 1988‑2005

Table 4. Average annual migration balance per 1 000 inhabitants according to nationality: 1988‑2005

Erratum: Data for Ixelles have been corrected on 20 january 2009.

National Register, ADSEI, courtesy of Interface Demography

Questions – issues

Erosion of incomes

15The migration patterns and especially suburbanisation have led to the more affluent double income families leaving the city, which in itself has caused a constant decrease in the average income per inhabitant of Brussels compared with the average income in Belgium (see table 5). Many companies have also established themselves in new industrial estates outside the Brussels-Capital Region, resulting in a sustained (relative) decrease in the incomes of the municipalities and the Brussels-Capital Region. This goes against the requirement to meet the increasingly greater needs of the urban population and the necessity to pursue an investment policy that makes living in the city appealing once again. The erosion of incomes makes it more difficult to pursue an active policy that meets housing needs. Nevertheless, an investment policy that ensures an appealing living environment whilst at the same time also guaranteeing the right to housing for the less affluent population is essential for a policy in which sustainable development is a priority.

Table 5. Evolution of average taxable income per inhabitant in the Brussels-Capital Region compared to the evolution in Belgium (Belgium = 100): 1971‑2005

Table 5. Evolution of average taxable income per inhabitant in the Brussels-Capital Region compared to the evolution in Belgium (Belgium = 100): 1971‑2005

ADSEI, Federal Public Service of Finance, courtesy of Interface Demography

Socio-economic spatial residential pattern

16The Brussels-Capital Region displays a clearly defined socio-economic spatial residential pattern (see map 3). This pattern has barely evolved over the course of time and has determined the settlement patterns of newcomers to the capital city for a number of decades. As well as the traditional working-class districts along the canal, a poorer population of immigrants has concentrated in the 19th century belt of municipalities in the first crown. The classical effect of chain migration has led to the development of relatively concentrated cores of immigrant communities. The socio-economic and cultural geographical patterns have produced invisible boundaries between communities living next to each other with little interaction. In day-to-day life, certain sections of the Brussels population barely come in contact with each other. This de facto segregation is a challenge for the city’s liveability in the long term and presents a particular problem for the fully-fledged development of young people who grow up in the poorer districts. Nevertheless, there are neighbourhoods where people with very diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds live together.

Map 3. Proportion of workmen (included comparable statutes) – 1/10/2001

Map 3. Proportion of workmen (included comparable statutes) – 1/10/2001

Increasing population pressure

17The population projections for Brussels predict that if the present demographic trends continue, the 19 Brussels municipalities will have approximately 1 million 300 000 inhabitants by the middle of this century (see table 3). These projections do not take account of possibilities for growth in housing or for the consequences of increasing demographic pressure on the cost of housing. Nonetheless, it is very clear that such a demographic evolution will present the Brussels-Capital Region with an important challenge.

Finding an answer to growing polarisation

18The socio-economic divide between the Brussels agglomeration and its suburban (or peri-urban) periphery is becoming greater; especially through socially-selective internal emigration (the access to the suburban area is increasingly restricted to the more affluent section of the population). This socio-economic polarisation overlaps with the complementarity of the spatial area in demographic terms in the lifecycle of individuals and households. The city offers advantages to young people and the existing organisation of the peri-urban area meets the expectations of those in the 30 to 45 year olds and their children. In spite of its problems, the city plays a social role that the peripheral area is increasingly less able to guarantee due to the type of housing provision (little or no social housing, limited and shrinking rental accommodation since the 1980s). We can obviously try to intervene by making changes to the housing provision. In the meantime, the city fulfils an important social function. The cost of this has to be carried fairly, also by the periphery that is not able to guarantee this function.

19The present housing market is also causing pernicious evolutions within the region. Despite the intensity of the migration and the comparatively larger provision of rental accommodation than in the rest of the country, the present housing market in no way guarantees an optimal allocation of housing to households. Overcrowding, under-utilisation and housing that does not meet the housing code are all common-place. Under pressure from continuous population growth, the new build sector is not able to bridge the gap. As a result, it is especially the socio-economically weaker population that are hard pressed on the property market, mainly because of the poor share of the social housing sector. Furthermore, the will to keep or bring back the middle-classes to the city (which goes against the present trend) could actually compound this pressure.

20A number of contradictions therefore emerge that need to be resolved. Will the region be able to combine the inflow of international executive staff, the will to keep the middle-classes in the city and the integration and care of the socially weak population groups? Is an increased densification of the population feasible? Are there any alternative paths that can be trodden?

Policy options

21The demographic evolution of the Brussels-Capital Region presents a great challenge to the future of our country. With the right policy measures, the demographic evolution of Brussels can make a positive contribution. Brussels not only contributes to a rejuvenation of the population, it also remains an economic engine for the country because of the role that it plays in population growth. Brussels continuously attracts young people with an enormous potential for talent and new ideas. The presence of international and European institutions together with international migration also contributes to its dynamic character. Brussels is an interesting city with much cultural charisma at the edge of French and Dutch culture and open to the whole world.

22However, Brussels also requires a future-oriented project in order to make it a liveable city for the 21st century. Brussels needs to be a pleasant place to live, in all respects. The demographic evolution calls for special attention to be paid to development within the disadvantaged districts and especially to the situation of young people and children who live in these districts. There is a need for an integrated policy plan that focuses on the many facets of education, employment, housing, the living environment, health etc. The geographical embedding of the disadvantaged districts in Brussels gives, in contrast to the situation in some other countries, enormous possibilities for addressing social segregation and to turn this city into a liveable city for everyone.

23The projections for population growth in Brussels are not based on the future development of the housing provision, but on the present dynamic of the various components of population growth. It is not self-evident that the region has the financial capacity for the expected population increase. In any case, the tension between the expected population growth and the existing housing provision presents clear challenges in terms of densification and socio-spatial reordering. Which scenarios need to be followed for an endurable and sustainable living environment? How are we going to deal with the limited space? Are high-rise buildings and the conversion of existing buildings (industrial premises, office spaces) options for the future? What influence will all this have on mobility within the city and the retention of sufficient green space and a child-friendly city environment?

24Brussels has a particularly important role in the integration process of young people on the employment market because of the position that the region plays in age-related migration flows and also because of the range of higher education that it offers. Brussels must manage the critical transitional phase to the employment market even more than in the rest of the country, which is why it is so important to invest in young people. This requires a global approach across all age groups; an approach that combines diverse means: education and training, eliminating all forms of inequality, but also paying attention to the expansion of the infrastructure (for example, would a day nursery add to the well-being and easier integration of young parents in the employment market?).

25A sustainable future for Brussels can not be a job just for the Brussels population. The challenge surpasses the possibilities of the region, which fiscally is under threat of bleeding to death and which geographically is stuck by the present state structures. Flanders and Wallonia will have to make a contribution. Either directly or indirectly, this can only serve to benefit their populations. In many respects, the future of Brussels will help determine the future of our country’s entire population.

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Bibliographie

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Notes

1 The data in this paragraph were corrected on 17 March 2009.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Graph 1. Migration according to age: Brussels-Capital Region 2005
Crédits National Register, ADSEI, courtesy of Interface Demography
URL http://brussels.revues.org/docannexe/image/891/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 39k
Titre Map 1. Geographical mobility indicator 1/10/1996 ‑ 1/10/2001
URL http://brussels.revues.org/docannexe/image/891/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 431k
Titre Graph 2. Factors in the recent evolution within the population of Brussels
Crédits National Register, ADSEI, courtesy of Interface Demography
URL http://brussels.revues.org/docannexe/image/891/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 236k
Titre Table 1. Births according to mother’s municipality of residence: 1998 & 2004
Crédits Birth Certificates, Observatory for Health and Welfare
URL http://brussels.revues.org/docannexe/image/891/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 106k
Titre Map 2. Share of children (0‑4 years) within the total population: Brussels-Capital Region (2001)
Légende Cartography: VUB – Interface Demography.
URL http://brussels.revues.org/docannexe/image/891/img-5.png
Fichier image/png, 257k
Titre Table 2. Total population and share without the Belgian nationality: Brussels-Capital Region 2000‑2008
Crédits ADSEI
URL http://brussels.revues.org/docannexe/image/891/img-6.png
Fichier image/png, 49k
Titre Table 3. Population projections: Brussels-Capital Region 2000‑2060
Crédits Predications 2000‑2006: RR – ADSEI, Calculations FPB; Population Projections 2007‑2060, FPB – ADSEI
URL http://brussels.revues.org/docannexe/image/891/img-7.png
Fichier image/png, 137k
Titre Table 4. Average annual migration balance per 1 000 inhabitants according to nationality: 1988‑2005
Légende Erratum: Data for Ixelles have been corrected on 20 january 2009.
Crédits National Register, ADSEI, courtesy of Interface Demography
URL http://brussels.revues.org/docannexe/image/891/img-8.png
Fichier image/png, 155k
Titre Table 5. Evolution of average taxable income per inhabitant in the Brussels-Capital Region compared to the evolution in Belgium (Belgium = 100): 1971‑2005
Crédits ADSEI, Federal Public Service of Finance, courtesy of Interface Demography
URL http://brussels.revues.org/docannexe/image/891/img-9.png
Fichier image/png, 136k
Titre Map 3. Proportion of workmen (included comparable statutes) – 1/10/2001
URL http://brussels.revues.org/docannexe/image/891/img-10.png
Fichier image/png, 449k
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Référence électronique

Patrick Deboosere, Thierry Eggerickx, Etienne Van Hecke et Benjamin Wayens, « The population of Brussels: a demographic overview », Brussels Studies [En ligne], Notes de synthèse, mis en ligne le 12 janvier 2009, consulté le 23 octobre 2017. URL : http://brussels.revues.org/891  ; DOI : 10.4000/brussels.891

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Auteurs

Patrick Deboosere

Patrick Deboosere, Master of Political Sciences and Doctor of Sociology is associated with the Interface Demography research group at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. His research focuses on the evolution of household composition and the demography of health. He has worked on various joint publications concerning the population of the Brussels-Capital Region. P. Deboosere, S. Demarest, V. Lorant, P.-J. Miermans, M.-I. Farfan-Portet, H. Van Oyen (2006), Gezondheid en mantelzorg, Sociaal-Economische Enquête 2001, Monografie No. 1.
Contact : Patrick.Deboosere@vub.ac.be

Articles du même auteur

Thierry Eggerickx

Thierry Eggerickx, with a license in history and a PhD in demography, is a research associate at the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research (FNRS) and a professor. He is also part of the Centre for Research in Demography and Societies, UCL. His research focuses on internal and international migration, local demography and the history of the populations and territories in Belgium. References include: J.-P. Hermia , A. Bahri, T. Eggerickx, J.-P. Sanderson (2007), “Migrations et stratégies résidentielles de citadins en milieu périurbain : attentes et perceptions des migrants”, Territoire(s) Wallon(s), No. 1, pp. 15‑30.
Contact : Thierry.eggerickx@uclouvain.be

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Etienne Van Hecke

Etienne Van Hecke, is a Professor at the K.U. Leuven and Head of the Institute for Social and Economic Geography. His research focuses on urban settlement systems, internal dynamics of city regions and migration flows. Sarah Luyten en Etienne Van Hecke, De Belgische stadsgewesten 2001, working paper 14, 2007, Algemene Directie Statistiek en Economische Informatie.
Contact : Etienne.VanHecke@ees.kuleuven.be

Benjamin Wayens

Benjamin Wayens, a geographer and docteur en Sciences, is a postdoctoral researcher at the ULB’s Institute for Environment and Land Use Planning (IGEAT). He has done research in the geography of services (especially retail shops and commercial property) and in spatial analysis applied to observation and history of the city. He was the scientific coordinator of “L’atlas de la Santé et du Social de Bruxelles-capitale” with P. Deboosere and C. Kesteloot.
Contact : bwayens@ulb.ac.be - 02/650.50.79

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