How many inhabitants in the Netherlands?
On 1 January 2023, 17.8 million people lived in the Netherlands. The population is expected to hit the 18 million mark next year. The first population census held by CBS, in 1899, counted 5.1 million people in the Netherlands.
Population censuses have been conducted in the Netherlands since 1795. They were organised at irregular intervals and mostly for specific administrative purposes; as a basis for levying taxes, for example. From 1829 onwards, a population census was held every ten years. The censuses were organised by the Ministry of the Interior.
CBS took over the responsibility for the population census in 1899. In the census for that year, CBS interviewers went from door to door with twelve questions for inhabitants. These questions fit on just one small sheet of paper, blue for men and pink for women. The completed sheets were all processed manually. The censuses are CBS’ oldest statistics. The information they provide is the basis for many population statistics: age composition, marital status, family size, occupation, and nationality, for example.
Machines to help count
In 1920, the first mechanical calculator was introduced to count census documents. It was a table-top machine and had 60 keys, each key with its own counter. Every time a key was pressed, its counter went up by 1. In 1930 CBS started to used punch cards and a device that could ‘read’ the holes punched into them. As counting and checking processes speeded up, CBS was able to produce more tables. Since 1960, CBS has used computers to process and check census data.
Last door-to-door census
CBS conducted its last door-to-door census in 1971. The questionnaire cards were distributed to all households. Respondents were asked to fill in the small ovals corresponding to their answers. Back at CBS, these blackened ovals could be read by IBM optical readers and stored in the computer’s memory.
The 1971 census unleashed a storm of protests. At the time of the census, the government was also discussing plans to introduce a central population register. Every individual in the Netherlands was to be assigned a national identification number. This spawned the first broad public debate about invasion of privacy.
The following census, in 1981, was a failure. In pilot enumerations, 26 percent of households did not return the census forms. After that, the population census was increasingly conducted with the aid of computers.
CBS counted the 15 millionth inhabitant of the Netherlands in 1991. It calculated this moment with data from the digital population registration, complemented with data from sample surveys. By the time the 16 millionth inhabitant was counted in 2001, the census had become completely automated. Inhabitants no longer needed to complete questionnaires. CBS expects to count the 18th millionth inhabitant in 2024.
CBS celebrates 125th anniversary
CBS will be celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2024. It will be publishing more articles about its history throughout the year.