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Urban 'Exodus': 45,000 Brussels residents left the capital in 2021

Eglise Saint-Joseph - photo Visitbrussels-JP Remy
16:44 09/08/2022

Last year set a record for the number of Brussels residents deciding to leave the capital. 

Around 45,000 people packed up and moved out of the city in 2021, with 28,000 opting for Flanders and 17,000 deciding to move to Wallonia, according to the latest data. 

The amount represents the largest number of departures since data started to be collected in 1992. 

The pandemic was likely to have been a contributing factor, Jean-Pierre Hermia, demographer at the Brussels Institute for Statistics and Analysis (IBSA), explained on La Première.

“It's probably one of the reasons, though there are no studies yet that look for the causality of this increase,” said Hermia.

“What's interesting is that in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, there was no increase. So, possibly it was due to the fact that a certain number of 2020 moves were postponed because real estate agents weren’t working during the first lockdown.”

In 2021, moves out of the city increased by 10%, which Hermia calls “quite significant” considering the figure has been fairly stable, albeit increasing slightly for a decade now.  

But while the pandemic’s effect is likely to include the postponement of 2020 moves to 2021, it also had an influence on departures because it increased people’s desire for proximity to green spaces, which are harder to come by in the city. 

Hermia said that further studies are needed to analyse the causes and figures for 2022 will be key in determining if the exodus is a true trend or one-off episode. 

24,000 people moved to Brussels in 2021 

While 45,000 residents left the capital for one of Belgium’s other regions, around 24,000 people living in the country moved there from either Flanders (10,500) or Wallonia (13,000).

“This is a fairly classic phenomenon. The big cities attract people and others leave these big cities. It's not the same profile,” Hermia said.

“We notice that the people who arrive are proportionally younger adults, usually between 18 and 25-years-old who come either during their studies or just after their first job for all the opportunities the city offers. On the other hand, the people who leave the city are often a little older, often families with young children who, for example, leave Brussels to buy a house.”

While Brussels is still losing more Belgians than it gains, the city’s population continues to rise due to an increase in people coming from other countries. 

“Brussels gains many more inhabitants from abroad than it loses, so we are looking at an increase from 15,000 to 20,000 for 2021,” Hermia said.

“And something quite remarkable about Belgium is that there are many more births in Brussels than deaths, which is not necessarily the case in the country's other two regions.”

Photo: Evere © Visitbrussels/Jean-Paul Rémy

Written by Helen Lyons