Social and economic environment | Kustportaal

Social and economic environment

On a social and economic level, the Belgian coastal zone has a typical character that differs from the rest of Flanders, with also marked differences occurring within the region. The coastal municipalities often have a rather urban character with typical demographics, housing and an increased risk of deprivation. Despite a large tourism sector, two seaports and an international airport, there is still an above-average unemployment rate and the supply of high-quality jobs for the highly educated is limited (Breyne et al. 2007, KustINzicht2019). The hinterland municipalities are mainly characterised by a distinct rural character with low population densities, employment and an increased outgoing commuting intensity.

On 1 January 2019, the coastal zone had 424,989 inhabitants (coastal municipalities: 338,767; hinterland municipalities: 86,222), which corresponds to an average population density of 373 inhabitants/km². A clear distinction can be made between the coastal and hinterland municipalities, with a respective average population density of 706 (North Sea Region Climate Change Assessment 2016) and 131 inhabitants per km² (Rijksregister, verwerkt door en provincie West-Vlaanderen).

More than a quarter of the population in the coastal zone is ageing (65+), an increase of +46% compared to the year 2000, while at the same time the working age (20-64 years) remained status quo (dejuvenation). Moreover, the coastal zone also counts a high number of deprived neighbourhoods with 22.4% of the households living in a deprived neighbourhood (Kansarmoede-atlas West-Vlaanderen 2017), although the region is generally considered to be prosperous (welfare index >100) (FOD Economie, KMO, Middenstand en Energie, Algemene Directie Statistiek, verwerkt door

With 173,634 employees, the region employs 33.3% of the population of West Flanders. Most of them are active in the tertiary and quaternary sectors, with a very small-scale primary sector, especially in the coastal municipalities. Furthermore, the coastal zone is characterised by a weak industrial base. At the end of 2015, the share of industrial workers was only 9%, more than 10% below the provincial average. The municipal unemployment rates differ widely and varied in 2017 between 11.9% (Ostend) and 2.9% (Lo-Reninge) (Vlaamse Arbeidsrekening verwerkt door Steunpunt Werk).

In the last twenty years (1998-2018), the number of housing units in the coastal zone has increased by +19.2% to 340,305 housing units, an increase that is more than the population increase (+6.0%). The pressure on open space in the region is therefore increasing all the time. Most of these housing units are located in coastal municipalities where, because of the high share of second homes, structural vacancy also occurs (the utilisation rate is only 61%). The demand for second homes also means that the housing units in the coastal zone are on average more recent than those in the rest of Flanders. Another striking feature is the high relative share of apartments in the coastal municipalities (52%) compared to the hinterland municipalities (10.3%) (FOD Financiën, Administratie van het kadaster, de registratie en de domeinen (AKRED), verwerkt door There is also a trend towards smaller households (family dilution), for example, 40.3% of the households in the coastal municipalities currently consist of a single person (Rijksregister, verwerkt door en provincie West-Vlaanderen).

More info, see the theme text ‘Social and Economic Environment’ of the Compendium for Coast and Sea and the publication CoastalINsight2019 (Dutch).

Population and buildings
Employment data