The Population in Precarious Balancing Act
As we all know from looking around us, Irish emigration is on the rise again. Figures were released yesterday by the CSO, based on information up to April 2012, and it is estimated that 34 thousand more people will leave this isle than will come to live on it during 2012. Because our birth rates are currently strong (thanks to the birth of the Pope’s grandchildren*) they are canceling out the deficit and the population continues to grow by about 11k per year. But our birth rates are predicted to start declining over the next few years and if emigration continues – we could see our population start to decline again as it did in previous generations.
A big concern is the impact that emigration has on the future make up of our country and our economy. 87k people will leave Ireland this year, and the worrying thing is that these emigrants don’t leave nice and neatly from across the age spectrum – 86% of them are under 45 (with 41% aged 15-24). It is easy to think this is a temporary action, that they are leaving a miserable Ireland to seek adventure and success before coming back, but what if they don’t?
If they don’t return we are left with a big hole in our demographic make up. To name but a few impacts, it means we will have less babies (so our population ages more quickly – so less vibrancy, energy, entrepreneurism), less people to work, less tax being paid, bigger burden to support pensioners on those who are left and usually an imbalance between the numbers of men and women (the effect being typically that there ends up being more women than men).
The Irish Times are running a series on Generation Next at the moment, focusing the the generation who grew up during the Celtic Tiger, which expands on many of the points made in this blog.
Emigration is always a fact of life in any country, particularly a small island and open economy like ours. But in recent times we had come to see it as something temporary, almost an adventure, a rite of passage, but we are in danger of moving back to a situation where emigration is permanent, a necessity and the problems I have outlined above are in danger, as time goes by of being cemented into place.
Melancholic songs are being penned (take your pick)….
The solution is simple to articulate and very difficult to achieve, but the sooner we can get our country back on its feet, the more likely we are to attract these young people home again (before they establish firm roots elsewhere). But to do that we need them to continue to see emigration as an opportunity not a necessity, we need them to leave Ireland thinking it is a place they want and expect to come back to in the future.
We need them to leave believing that Ireland will get back on her feet and thrive again.
* as an aside, and a reflection of the fall of the influence of the Catholic church, I’ll bet we all know the odd John Paul (or JP) from the 1980’s, but has anyone met a Baby Benedict?