As a nation, we are separating more rubbish but less from our partners

We’re getting older and greener, producing more babies and scientists, and still shunning the divorce courts — Ireland today is a country of change and contradictions according to the Central Statistics Office.

A portrait compiled from the latest data shows lop-sized population trends with the proportion of over-65s growing by 3% and the 45-64 age group by 2% in the decade between 2007 and 2017.

In the same period, the proportion of 15- to 44 year-olds fell by 6% but the proportion of 0- to 14-year-olds grew by 1%, partly due to Ireland having the second highest fertility rate in Europe.

The uneven growth has left us in a situation where less than half the population is of working age, meaning fewer people to support the 54.2% who are children and pensioners.

As a nation, we are separating more rubbish but less from our partners

We had the third highest percentage increase in population over this period behind Luxembourg and Cyprus — up from 4.2m to 4.7m — with the excess of births over deaths accounting for much of that. There were 31,000 deaths last year compared to 64,000 births.

There was also a third successive year of net immigration in 2017 after five years of net emigration, with 85,000 people moving to Ireland and 65,000 leaving.

That surge in population size means that even though proportionately there are fewer younger people, the country’s schools and colleges are bursting.

The number of primary and secondary students both grew by 15% over the decade, while the numbers attending third level full-time rocketed by 30% with a further increase of 17% in those attending third level part-time.

Spending has not followed the same pattern, however, as spending per student at primary and second level increased by 15% and 7% respectively but fell by 25% at third level.

The increase in student numbers means a greater proportion of the population can boast of having a third level education — 46.5% of 25- to 34 year-olds compared to 42% in 2007 and 37.5% on average across the EU.

An indication of what all those extra people in third level are doing comes from the finding that Ireland now has the most STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) graduates in all of Europe.

There is a big male-female divide, however, as there are two and a half times more male than female STEM graduates. The EU average is slightly less pronounced, with male STEM graduates outnumbering females by just less than two to one.

Gender differences are evident elsewhere across society. Women in Ireland are living on average for 83 years and men for 79 years, although women will spend 15 years in poor health compared to 13 for men.

More men of working age (72%) are in employment compared to 61% of working age women. These figures may have increased in very recent times but the proportions are thought likely to be the same.

Differences also show up in pay packets — according to the last figures, from 2014, men earned on average 14% more per hour than women.

When the sexes can put aside their differences and turn attention to family life, the figures show they produce more than one in three babies (36.5%) outside of marriage. That is the tenth lowest in the EU where France has the highest proportion born outside of marriage (59%) and Greece the lowest at just 9%.

Divorce rates are the lowest in Europe at 0.6% per 1000 of the population — a third of the EU average of 1.9 per 1,000 and less than one fifth the rate of league-topper Lithuania.

As a country, Ireland has divorced itself from landfill as a means of waste disposal with at least 70% less waste going to landfill in a 10-year period. We have also managed to reduce the amount of waste generated from 750kg per person per year to 564kg but that is still well above the EU average of 480kg and leaves us sixth highest waste producers in the EU.

Where we stand against rest of EU


  • The morning traffic bulletins would suggest otherwise but Ireland is not the number one nation of car-lovers in the EU. We have 436 cars per 1,000 of the population — the seventh lowest in the EU, where rates range from 261 per 1,000 (Romania) to 661 per 1,000 (Luxembourg).
  • Ireland is the only EU country that has a rail network but doesn’t use it for transporting freight. Just 1% of freight moved around the country is transported by train compared to an EU average of 18% and an EU high of 56% (Latvia).
  • One in eight people live in a household where no one has a job, the sixth highest in Europe, while one in six is at risk of poverty. The risk is highest for children (19%) and over-65s (10%).
  • One in six young people aged 18-24 are NEETs (not in education, employment, or training) according to 2016 figures. That’s slightly higher than the EU average, where the rate ranges widely from 6% (Netherlands) to 26% (Italy).
  • With 87% of households having internet access, Ireland has the eighth highest rate in the EU, although that doesn’t speak for the quality of connection.



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