The Central Statistics Office has just released (31/08/2015) its latest statistics on the Irish population, including for 2015. All data refers to end-April in the relevant year. And all years since 2011 are estimates. Nonetheless, the CSO thinks there are 4.635 million of us. And we are diverse and constantly changing. So let’s go through this. Here’s the first graph.
Population change (red line) is the difference between the natural increase (births minus death) and net migration (immigrants minus emigrants). From the onset of recession in 2008 until this year, the population continued to grow. In 2008 we added 110,000 people and in the year to end-April 2015, we added 25,000 people.
Our population is growing because the natural increase covers the negative net migration. But the natural increase is falling because fewer births are taking place. This will relieve pressure on the education system five years from now and beyond and relieves pressure on maternity hospitals in the short term. In fact, between 2010 and 2015, maternity hospital had to deal with 10,000 fewer births.
But why is net migration still negative? After all, the recession is over and the economy is recovering ( though more on this to come). Who is leaving and who is arriving? As net migration is the difference between immigration and emigration, it captures both of these. The graph below shows net migration by nationality.
In 2013, Ireland saw 16,000 Irish people move to Ireland and 51,000 Irish people leave. The net was a loss of 35,000. The idea that Irish people have been returning to Ireland isn’t materialising. The number of Irish immigrants has actually been declining since 2012. But so too has emigration. It is not that 'Generation Emigration' has returned, it is just that it is becoming a smaller group.
What’s interesting is the growth in net migration from non-EU citizens. In 2011 this stood at 2,500 but in 2015 stood at 12,700. Relatively small numbers but our country is becoming more diverse. At end-April 2015, the CSO estimates that 88% of the population were citizens of Ireland. See below.
That trend in immigration of non-EU citizens has increased the size of that cohort from 159,000 to 193,000 over the period 2010-2015. This is an increase of 21% and is remarkable growth. In the context of the current refugee crisis, our country has been showing that is capable of absorbing immigrants, irrespective of their status. By contrast, we are often told that Ireland has lost a generation of young people. But is this correct? Mostly yes. See below.
For the age group 15-24, net migration has been in the negative to the tune of over 15,000 in every year since 2011. I was part of that net loss in 2010. And in 2014 I was a returning emigrant, then part of the 25-44 grouping. I was a statistic that made net migration decrease from a loss of 12,500 in 2013 to 4,600 in 2014. My housemate was too. We were returning to work in a recovering economy and moving into a new cohort with different lifestyle choices.
This net loss for the age group 25-44 was just 3,000 at end-April 2015. It is fair to assume that the declining net loss of people in this age cohort has been putting pressure on the rental market. And it will continue to do so in the short term. In the medium term, as people in this cohort expect to buy homes, the pressure will move to the housing market proper.
However, the most interesting group to look at is under 14s.
In the year to end-April 2015, it is estimated that this cohort saw a net gain of 7,400. These may be the children of returning emigrants or the children of immigrants. Whatever about it, that’s 7,400 more children requiring pre-school or primary school care. It means that any of that respite coming from a falling birth rate is being taken over by these immigrating children. And it also means our schools system requires additional resources for language support immediately.
But because this change has happened so fast – there were exactly 5,000 more immigrating children in 2015 than in 2014 – the resources may not be there. This will hinder the education of these children. With a four year old war in Syria, a refugee and migrant crisis the Mediterranean for at least four years, and an industrial policy that attracts international talent, language supports in schools should be robust and anticipatory. Other pages of this website will address education statistics. Here I only want to highlight the link between shifts in migration and policy planning.
Another example is found in the data on net migration by educational attainment. See below.
As seen, net migration is negative for all groups apart from ‘not stated’. We have been losing those with third level degrees and those with secondary qualifications in big number since 2010. In 2013 we lost 23,000 individuals with an education of higher secondary or below. This would have meant fewer workers for less highly skilled jobs. The effect would have been greater competition for those kinds of jobs. Since then, we are seeing a marked change among this cohort, with negative net migration halving as of end-April 2015. This means more workers for less highly-skilled jobs in an economy in which jobs are being created. Economists call this an equilibrium. Economies strive for equilibria.
But what about the employment statuses of our immigrants and emigrants? The graph below shows the breakdown of net migration by the employment status.
The perception, and reasonable assumption, is that the recession led people without work to leave the country. Of course it did. But it also led many with jobs to leave. In fact, between 2010 and 2015, 207,000 working individuals and 90,000 unemployed individuals left the country. So ‘Generation Emigration’ largely comprised of people who left Ireland despite having jobs. Many of these individuals were replaced by immigrants (Irish and non-Irish) taking up work, but the number was not sufficient to make net migration positive, as seen by the large negative blocks in the graph above.
It is also interesting to note the net migration figures for students. In all years since 2010 net migration of students has been negative. This is the difference between both trend lines in the graph below.
The most interesting development took place in the years to end-April 2014 and end-April 2015. Emigration rose in 2014 and immigration fell in 2015. We have no further information on the identity of these students. A reasonable assertion could be that many students departed upon the revelations about our English-language schools and that fewer elected to come in the following period. Alternatively, it may be that those emigrating students were Irish students.
We cannot be certain. But we can say that, in total, between 2010 and 2015, there has been a net migration loss of 58,700 students. These students will have become workers during the intervening years, making them a lost opportunity to the Irish economy.
This article is only a quick overview of the Irish population and is updated as of 31 August 2015. Upon release of further CSO figures in a couple of months, the article will be revised.