Database of historical mortality statistics for Belgium, 1841-1970

The HISSTER database provides a selection of mortality statistics for Belgian municipalities since 1841.

Information sheet

Title: Database of historical mortality statistics for Belgium

Author: Ghent University

Population/Subject: Historical mortality statistics

Region: Belgium

Period: 1841-1970

Number of units: 2710

Number of variables: 2696

Format: CSV, XLS, XML, PDF

Accessibility: No restrictions on top of the general terms and conditions of use of the Quetelet Center.

Context of the database

This database was created as part of the HISSTER project (supervisor Professor Dr. Isabelle Devos), which was funded by the Special Research Fund of Ghent University. The database was developed to protect Belgium’s rich heritage of mortality statistics and to make the data available for research.

Belgium belongs to a small group of countries that has kept well-documented demographic statistics over a long period. For example, the archives of the “Mouvement de la Population et de l’Etat Civil” (available at the State Archives in Brussels) contain a wealth of demographic data for the period 1841-1976.

The Mouvement is a unique series of registers, filled in by hand, of the annual changes in the population (births, deaths, marriages, immigration and emigration) and they cover all the Belgian municipalities and districts. This series was, in addition to the (population) censuses, the main pillar of 19th- and 20th-century population statistics in Belgium.

This exceptional source is relatively unknown in Belgium and abroad. More than half the statistics in Mouvement are related to mortality and these can be found in the database.

What data can you find in this database?

The HISSTER database contains a selection of mortality statistics from the rich source “Mouvement de la Population et de l’Etat Civil”. Among the data these records contain are the annual number of deaths broken down by gender, age category and cause of death (cholera, cancer, tuberculosis, violent death, suicide, stillbirth, etc.) per district and per municipality.

In addition to data from the Mouvement, HISSTER also contains birth and population statistics to enable calculations of relative mortality indicators. 

For a summary of the variables in the database, see “Inventaris van HISSTER: Databank van Belgische overlijdensstatistieken uit de 19de en 20ste eeuw beschikbaar op lokaal en regionaal niveau” (“Inventory of HISSTER: Database of Belgian mortality statistics from the 19th and 20th century available at local and regional level”) by Isabelle Devos, Sofie De Langhe and Sven Vrielinck.

How can you consult data from the database?

HISSTER is managed by the Quetelet Center. Those who are interested in using the data from HISSTER should submit a reasoned request to the staff at the center (Queteletcenter@ugent.be).

Publications based on HISSTER

  • Van Rossem, Tina, Patrick Deboosere, and Isabelle Devos. “Spatial disparities at death. Age-, sex- and disease-specific mortality in the districts of Belgium at the beginning of the twentieth century”. Espace Populations Sociétés. Space Populations Societies, no. 1-2 (2018): 1-22. 
  • Clerix, Kristof. “Grasduinen in de bevolkingsgeschiedenis: wat was er mis met de West-Vlamingen?” Knack, 13 March 2018.
  • Van Rossem, Tina, Patrick Deboosere, and Isabelle Devos. “Death at work? Mortality and industrial employment in Belgian cities at the turn of the twentieth century”. Explorations in Economic History 66 (2017): 44–64.
  • Klüsener, Sebastian, Isabelle Devos, Peter Ekamper, Ian Gregory, Siegfried Gruber, Jordi Martí-Henneberg, Frans Poppel, Luis Espinha da Silveira, and Arne Solli. “Spatial inequalities in infant survival at an early stage of the longevity revolution: a pan-European view across 5000+ regions and localities in 1910”. Demographic Research 30 (2014): 1849–64.
  • Devos, Isabelle, and Tina Van Rossem. “Urban health penalties: estimates of life expectancies in Belgian cities, 1846-1910”. Journal of Belgian History 45, no. 4 (2015): 74–109.