Continuity or Change? The Evolution in the Location of Industry in the Netherlands and Belgium (1820 – 2010)

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


What explains the location of industry in the Netherlands and Belgium since the beginning of the nineteenth century until present? This thesis explains the regional patterns of industrialization and economic development in the Low Countries through various phases of (de-) industrialization, during the 1820s-2010s, by drawing upon new datasets which combine recently-digitized industry and population censuses and previously undigitized archival sources.

The first part of the thesis tests the importance of proto-industry for the Industrial Revolution, where we assess that in some regions such as the Eastern Netherlands the location of modern industry geographically overlapped with the location of proto-industry, whereas other regions such as Flanders modern industry developed outside the proto-industrial heartland. The second part analyses the causes of the first and second Industrial Revolution. While during the first half of the nineteenth century industries predominantly emerged in regions with illiterate and cheap labourers, an evolution of which the Belgian regions benefitted more than their Dutch counterparts, during the second part of the nineteenth century high-skill intensive industries emerged mostly near regions with a highly-skilled labour force. The third part studies the determinants of industrial location during the twentieth century, where we observe industries increasingly clustering in centres of market potential and human capital, away from neo-classical factor endowments such as natural resources and agricultural production, explaining in part the relocation of industries in Belgium from south to north and in the Netherlands to the western part of the country. In the last part, we test the resilience of regions against the disappearance of manufacturing jobs in the last decennia. Our results indicate that the long-term presence of industrial sectors could limit the capabilities for some regions to develop new economic activities, in particular though not exclusively located in the Belgian Mons-Liège rust belt.
Thus, this study attempts to provide a better understanding of the evolutionary dynamics of the location of industry.

Since the beginning of the nineteenth century until present, different determinants for the location of industry – related to differences in factor endowments, market potential, and institutions – have altered the industrial landscape. Yet, this study affirms regional and national differences in these determinants of industry. Also, path dependence is found to have played an important role. The previous determinants of industrial development and the existing economic structures resulting therefrom appear able to strengthen or weaken the attractiveness of a region for new industries, and alter the capabilities for a region to become economically resilient or vulnerable in the long-run.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • van Zanden, Jan Luiten, Primary supervisor
  • van Leeuwen, Bas, Co-supervisor
Award date6 Nov 2020
Print ISBNs978-90-9033903-0
Publication statusPublished - 6 Nov 2020


  • economic history
  • industrialization
  • Industrial Revolution
  • manufacturing
  • Belgium
  • the Netherlands
  • technological change
  • human capital
  • economic geography
  • path dependence


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