When we want to look at the major trends in Ireland’s population the first place to start is the website of the Central Statistics Office (CSO). The CSO is Ireland’s official body for the compilation, extraction and publication of statistics. Statistics published include those relating to people and society, labour market and earnings, business sectors, the economy and the environment. Other databases available include on the CSO website are Eurostat, the European Central Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the United Nations Security Council and the International Monetary Fund.

These are extremely powerful resources. For example, if you want to look at Ireland’s population you can search the Census of Population Interactive Tables. On the menu chose ‘Annual Population Estimates`. This leads to a comprehensive list of tables covering the main demographic indicators. The table ‘Annual Population Change by Year and Component` has a tool to allow the user to select which population elements for each year going back to 1951.

I selected all population elements from 1999-2018. The query returns a table that can be downloaded to a spreadsheet or database for further analysis. The table shows that the population of Ireland grew from 3.74 million in 1999 to 4.86 million in 2018. That’s an increase in population of 1.1 million or 30% over the past 20 years. How did this increase come about?

There are two elements to population change. The first element is the rate of natural increase (or decrease), that is, the number of births, minus the number of deaths. The second element is migration flows.

Taking the natural increase, the data shows that the natural increase accounted for 714,600 of the 1.1 million increase in population since 1999. That tells us a certain amount.

If we plot the data for 1999-2018 we get a more complete picture. We note that the trend in the rate of population increase has almost exactly mirrored the trend in the rate of births. This is because the number of deaths per annum has remained steady over the period. It is also noteworthy that the number of births increased rapidly from 2006 to 2010. The number of births increased from around sixty thousand in 2006 to almost eighty thousand in 2010.

While the number of deaths is an important figure, the death rate is the measure used for comparison over time and between countries. The death rate is measured as the number of deaths per thousand population. In 1999, the rate of deaths per thousand population was 8.7. By 2017 this had fallen to 6.4. This is a reduction of 26% over the last twenty years. Despite the scandals and criticism of the health service it is clear that the health and longevity of the population has improved at a substantial rate since 1999.

I will now turn attention to net migration. In the period 1999-2018, 1.49 million people migrated to Ireland and 1.05 million left, leaving a net migration figure of 446,000.

When the yearly figures are plotted we can see that the pattern of immigration and emigration has not been even over the period. The chart shows a spike in immigration from 2004-2007, followed by a rapid fall as unemployment rose during the banking crisis and ensuing recession. This period was also characterised by a rise in emigration. From 2009 the number of emigrants exceeded the number of immigrants and this pattern continued until 2015. In 2009, net migration turned negative and remained so until 2014.

Combining the natural increase in population from 1999-2018 and net migration for the period gives the following table:

This shows that there was far greater volatility in the amount of net migration than for the natural rate of increase. The spike in net migration in 2007 and subsequent fall coincided with the boom and bust caused by the banking crisis.

Why does any of this matter? Compilation, extraction and reporting of population statistics is vital for public policymaking and planning of public services. For example, when the number of births rose between 2006 and 2010, the education authorities will know that extra capacity is needed in the education system for as long as the persons born in these years remain in education.

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