Monday, 31 May 2010

Ireland's high birth rate and the economy

Many years ago, while living and working in London, we came back home for a few boating holidays on the Shannon. Once, we moored the hire boat at Rooskey and took a walk to a big barn of a pub called the Kon Tiki. The place was empty, with the exception of the barman and an old guy we got chatting to. The old guy told us that there was hardly a young person left in the area, as most of them had emigrated just as we had.

So although Ireland had a young population then, as now, if you wanted to work then sometimes the only choice was to get on the boat, and we are talking Stena Sealink rather than Carrick Craft here. Which makes you wonder about the logic of predicting economic growth or property prices on birth rate.

In 2007, Marc Coleman published a book with the unfortunate title of “The Best is Yet to Come”. I haven’t read the book, but from what I can gather, it is written on the premise that Ireland will experience major economic growth in the future based on net migration and domestic population growth.

The problem about making predictions based on the trends and conditions of a given period, however, is that trends and conditions have an awful habit of changing. Coleman reckons, based on reviews I’ve read, that Ireland (I assume the Republic) will boast a population of 8 million by 2050. You can just imagine the builders’ eyes lighting up at such a prospect.

Thing is, Ireland actually experienced net emigration in 2009, according to CSO figures, with 7,800 people leaving the country. This, I assume, is due to the simple reason that the work has dried up. Add in the fact that all of the old EU 15 states will open up their borders to workers from the assession countries next year, and it gets more interesting.  Up until now, people from countries such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have only been allowed to work in Ireland, the UK and Sweden.  Now let’s face it, if you were from one of these countries, would you not rather work in nearby Germany or maybe the south of France in preference to Ireland if you had the choice?  I know I would.  So that’s the increasing migration aspect dealt with, then.

Ireland’s birth-rate is another matter of course. While the rest of the EU’s population is greying, we are still popping them out like there’s no tomorrow, comparatively, with women in Ireland giving birth to an average of 2.05 children a year as opposed to 1.98 in France and 1.92 in Britain. Poland’s figure was 1.31. (CSO report, May).

Mind you, it’s all relative, as 2.1 is the figure deemed necessary for a population to stay at the same level, excluding migration.  Even so, the CSO still predicts a population of 5 million by 2021. There will have to be a major run on Viagra if Coleman's figure of 8 million just 29 years later is to be reached.

Fast forward 40 years, though, and it’s pretty likely that the Irish powers-that-be will be using emigration as a safety valve – as they have done since the State’s inception with only a few minor interruptions along the way.

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Anonymous said...

GM I'd say they'll be using emigration as that safety valve sometime soon. With 432,500 people unemployed to the end of April 2010, I have a funny feeling the majority of these wont be finding work in McDonalds. Add to this the complete non start of any credible unemployment strategy, a nation deluding itself that its the centre of the universe - the craic is grand donttt you know? - and you have one seriously messed up - but very typical - problem. Am I the only one who thinks, one major way of tackling the economic prob is by creating jobs? Or at least trying..

Hold on maybe the diaspora are chomping at the bit to throw money at the problem?

Top of the morning to ya!!


The Gombeen Man said...

That's a lot of people on the brew, D.

I've got it! Let's bring back those giant economic intellects B-B-Bertie and Charlie Eeeeehhhh McCreevy! They will restore our little land to the glory days of the Tiger, bedad.


Anonymous said...

Be gob you might have something there...