Demographic History of Belgium

Note : this page is conceived telegram-style and selective (lists of wars deemed destructive, lists of epidemic diseases, years of famine etc.)

Aging Society
Due to a low birth rate, rising life expectancy and restricted immigration, as well as a long era of peace, Belgium since the late 1960es experiences a rising percentage of senior citizens among the overall population. Euthanasia was legalized in 2002.

1960 Congo Leopoldville (Belgian Congo, D.R. Congo, Zaire) released into independence
1962 Rwanda, Burundi released into independence

Deportation & Genocide
1794-1813 : Belgians pressed to serve in French armies, fight abroad
1940-1945 : Deportation of Belgian Jews. mostly to German Concentration Camps in Poland
1940-1945 : Deportation of Belgian Gypsies, mostly to German Concentration Camps in Poland

Emigration to the U.S.A. (since 1783), to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa
1840es : Establishment of a Belgian settlement in Guatemala (Santo Tomas de Castilla)
after 1945 : emigration of Belgian Jews to Palestine/Israel

Ethnic or Religious Minorities : Gypsies
First arrived in the Low Countries in the 15th century; maintained their wandering lifestyle and kept to themselves. Gypsies with Belgian citizenship are distinguished in three groups, Voyageurs (travellers), Manoesj and Rom (Roma). During WW II, the Gypsy community was subject to deportation and "special treatment" in Auschwitz. In recent years, Belgium experienced the immigration of undocumented Gypsies from countries such as Slovakia, Rumania and the former Yugoslavia, the latter out- numbering the legally registered Gypsies.

Ethnic or Religious Minorities : Jews
The presence of Jews in the Low Countries is documented for as early as the 13th century; the Jews were confined to urban centers and to certain professions. The communities were extinguished in pogroms in 1348 and 1370; in 1490ff, following the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal, a new wave of Jewish immigrants arrived. In 1713 the southern Netherlands switched from being Spanish to being Austrian; the political changes toward the end of the 18th and at the beginning of the 19th century brought legal emancipation. Following Belgian independence, the port city of Antwerp experienced an economic resurgence. Antwerp and Brussels are home to the largest Jewish communities in Belgium. Belgian Jews were subject to deportation and "special treatment" in Auschwitz. A considerable part of the Belgian Jewish community survived World War II. After the war, many emigrated to Israel.

Epidemic, Pandemic Diseases
Flanders & Brabant usually were reached by epidemic diseases earlier than many other regions in Europe, due to the function of port cities such as Brugge and Antwerpen
1316 epidemic at Ieper (Ypres, Flanders)
1348 Black Death (Bubonic Plague)
1502 Black Death (Bubonic Plague)
1668 Pest (Plague)
1720 End of episodic recurence of Bubonic Plague epidemics
1832 Cholera
1866 Cholera
1918 Spanish Influenza

1844-1846 famine caused by the Potato Blight
1914-1918 famine (food shortage caused by the British blockade of Germany in WW I; partial relief by American Committee for the Relief of Belgium)

Internal Displacement
1914-1918 : World War I, a major problem as a large section of the country was war zone.
1940 : World War II, a temporary phenomenon as the country was quickly conquered by the Germans.

Labour Migration : Emigration
see also : Emigration
1620es : Walloon metal workers, entrepreneurs moved to Sweden, contributing to the modernization of Sweden's mining, arms, weapons industry
Late 17th Century : France, other countries, as a mercantilist measure, attracted foreign skilled workers as immigrants. Walloon metal workers were sought after.
Late 19th Century : Belgians (mainly Walloons) emigrated to France in search for labour
1884-1962 : Belgian bureaucrats/technocrats moved to the Congo Free State (since 1908 : Belgian Congo), from 1918 to Ruanda-Urundi. While the Congo Free State attracted bureaucrats/technicrats/military from a variety of countries, the Belgian Congo mainly employed Belgians
1914-1918 : During World War I Germany experienced a shortage of workers. Germany forced Belgians to work in German factories
1940-1945 : During World War II Germany experienced a shortage of workers. Germany forced B. to work in German factories
1991 : Maastricht Treaty established freedom of movement / settlement for EU citizens within the EU

Labour Migration : Immigration
1722 : Oostend Company (for East India trade) chartered, mainly run by Dutchmen and Italians
1920es : Lack of workers because of population losses in World War I; Belgium, especially the mining industry, metal industry, attracted workers, mainly from Poland, Italy. The influx ebbed down at the begin of the Great Depression.
Late 1940es-1950es : Belgian industry attracted workers from Italy
1957 : ECSC transformed into EEC (later EC respectively EU); Brussels chosen as the center of administration. Influx of bureaucrats from all over the Common Market (which expanded in 1973, 1980, 1985, 1995 and 2004)
1960es-1975 : Belgian industry attracted migrant workers from Turkey, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia
since 1975 : Labor migration from ciountries outside of the EU restricted; immigration of close relatives of migrant workers already in Belgium permitted
1967 : France left the military organization of NATO; NATO headquarters moved to Brussels; further influx of bureaucrats
1991 : Maastricht Treaty established freedom of movement / settlement for EU citizens within the EU

Political Refugees : Emigrants
1567-1563 : The Council of Troubles (Duke of Alva) rule by terror caused many to flee the country
1579-1605 : Dutch War of Independence; many protestants, Jews fled the country
1790es : Catholic monks, expelled from monasteries confiscated by the French, fled to Catholic Princebishoprics in Germany
1914-1915 (1918) : Belgian Refugees in the Netherlands
1914-1918 : Belgian Refugees in France (Belgian Govt. in Le Havre)
1918- : Flemish Nationalists (who collaborated during WW I with the Germans) residing in the Netherlands
1940-1945 : Belgian Refugees in Englnd (Belgian Exile Govt., London)

Political Refugees : Immigrants
1831 : Poles
1848 : Germans
1863 : Poles
1880- : Russian, Polish Jews
1933-1940 : Germans
1938 : German Jews
1936- : Spaniards
1956-1957 : 5,040 Hungarians
1968 : Czechoslovaks
1973 : Chileans
1980- : Vietnamese boat people

Political Statistics
1801 : Population of some Belgian regions (under French administration) counted
1857 : Kingdom of Belgium held first population census (4,529,600)
Further censi taken in 1866, 1876, 1881, 1890, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1941, 1947, 1961, 1970, 1981

Rural Population
High Middle Ages : Drainage of swamps, land below sea level in coastal regions; extension of fertile farmland (Flanders)
18th Century : the cultivation of the potato, fertilization, crop rotation and other measures resulted in better harvests and
sustained population growth
19th Century : the import of fertilizers from overseas (a.o. Guano, salpetre) caused a further increase in harvests; many villagers migrated into the cities in search for work, a process which continued in the 20th century

Late Middle Ages : Flanders-Brabant was the most urbanized region in Europe outside of Italy. Brugge (Bruges), later Antwerpen (Antwerp, Anvers) was the leading port on the Atlantic coast; other Flemish cities thrived because of their textile industry, Liege and other cities of the Maas (Meuse) valley because of their metal industry; Brussel (Bruxelles), as the capital of the Burgundian territories because of its administrative function. Because of the latter, Brussel became a French-speaking enclave in a Flemish speaking environment.
19th Century : Belgium the first country on the European continent to industrialize, the first country on the continent to have a railroad network; industrialization of textile industry, metal industry, large-scale mining; growth of the cities, emergence of boomtowns. Wallonia the more prosperous region (home of mining, metal industry); crisis of textile industry (Flanders)
20th Century : Continued urbanization; urban lifestyle becomes typical. Cities absorbed labour immigration

Volunteers in foreign Wars
1832-1835 : Belgian volunteers in Portugal
1860-1870 : Belgians serving in the defense of the Papal State
1864-1867 : Belgian volunteers in the Mexican Civil War (pro-Maximilian)
1915-1918 : Belgian volunteers in Russia (WW I)
1936-1939 : Belgian volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, on the side of the Republicans
1940-1945 : Flemish, Walloon volunteers in the "Struggle against Bolzhevism"
1950-1953 : Korean War (Belgo-Luxemburgian Volunteer Regiment, on the South Korean side; a few Belgian Communists fighting on the side of the North Koreans)

Wartime Destruction : Battlefield Belgium
1566-1567 : Calvinist Revolt (Valenciennes)
1579-1609 : Dutch Revolt; most damaging to the S. Netherlands in the 1580es, with the siege/sack of major cities
1621-1648 : Dutch-Spanish War
1635-1659 : Franco-Spanish War
1667-1668 : War of Devolution
1689-1697 : War of the Grand Alliance
1701-1713 : War of Spanish Succession
1745-1748 : War of Austrian Succession
1792-1794 : First War of the Coalition fought in Belgium
1798 : Boerenkrijg (Flemish Peasants' War)
1914-1918 : World War I (worst war-inflicted damage Belgium experienced in history)
1940 : World War II : German conquest
1940-1944 : World War II : Air Bombardment of Belgium
1944-1945 : World War II : Liberation; Battle of the Bulge

CEDEM, Center for Ethnic and Migration Studies, at Univ. Liege
Belgian immigrants into the U.S., from Spartacus Schoolnet
Belgium, from Virtual Jewish History Tour
Before 1939: installation of totalitarian regimes, from History of International Migration Site, at Univ. Leiden
History of International Migration, by Marlou Schrover
T. Machiel, Roma and Travellers in Belgium (on Gypsies)
The Gypsies, wandering artists, from Belly Dance Museum
Media and the Combat of Anto-Gypsy Bias in Belgium, from Recom Network
Myriam Novitch, Gypsy victims of the Nazi Terror, posted on Patrin Web Journal
Mark Weber, Belgium and its Jews during the war, from IHR
Mechelen Museum of Deportation and Resistance
Belgium, from Euro-Islam Info
The Second Generation in Belgium, from International Migration Review
Political participation of Belgium's Muslim populations, by Pierre-Yves Lambert, 1997
Profile Netherlands, Belgium, from Australia Visa
Rebecca A. Bishop, History of the Bubonic Plague
Time-Chart of European Economic History 1300-1750, from Economics.UToronto
Claire Quetelet, De evolutie van de levensverwachting in Belgie, 18de - 20ste eeuw (The Evolution of Life Expectancy in Belgium, from the 18th to the 20th century), thesis Univ. Gent 2005, in Dutch
DOCUMENTS Historical Population Statistics : Belgium, from Population Statistics at Univ. Utrecht
REFERENCE B.R. Mitchell, International Historical Statistics 1750-1988 [G]
Frank Caesteker, Alien Policy in Belgium 1840-1940, The Creation of Guest Workers, Refugees and Illegal Aliens, Berghahn 2001
G. Reniers, On the history and selectivity of Turkish and Moroccan migration to Belgium. Int Migr. 1999;37(4):679-713. Abstract from Entrez
Karola Fings, The Killing Fields (Story of Gypsy and Roma in NL, B, Scand., Balkans), to be published by Univ. of Hertfordshire 2002
Dr. O. Van Kappene. A contribution to the History of the Gypsies in Belgium J G L S XLVIII
Abstract of E. Vermeersch The Belgian law on euthanasia. The historical and ethical background., from Entrez

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted om March 23rd 2005, last revised on April 3rd 2006

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