In the past century, Ireland has transformed from a poor agricultural country into one of the best places to live in Europe. Industrialization and foreign investments have brought wealth to the country, which has been used to improve the lives of Irish citizens. These 10 facts about living conditions in Ireland are not without their pitfalls; however, they demonstrate what is possible when an economic boom is met with social conscientiousness.
10 Facts About Living Conditions in Ireland
- In the last five years, the living conditions in Ireland have improved faster than any other country worldwide. Between 2012 and 2017, the country rose 13 places on the U.N.’s Human Development Index and now is number 4 after Norway, Switzerland and Australia. This index ranks countries based on life expectancy, access to education and gross national income per capita.
- Ireland had the highest birth rate of the European Union (EU) member states in 2017, with 12.9 births per 1,000 people. The country also has one of the fastest growing populations in the EU, a rarity among developed nations. The population grew from 3.1 million in 1911 to 4.59 million by 2011, a 46 percent increase. However, this is still lower than the 8.4 million people estimated to have lived in Ireland prior to the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s.
- From 2001 to 2016, the teenage pregnancy rate fell 64 percent, a decrease of almost 2,000 teenage births. This is likely due to the Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) instituted in public schools in the 1990s. The 2016 survey, Growing Up in Ireland, found that 79 percent of sexually active 17 and 18-year-olds always used contraception.
- Ireland is closing the gap in gender inequality. In 2015, the country ranked eighth in the European Institute for Gender Equality’s index at 69.5 percent, which evaluated work, money, education, time, health and power. It has been rising steadily since 2005 and is currently ahead of the nearby United Kingdom. For example, in 2018, the Irish gender pay gap was 14 percent, which was ahead of Australia at 15.4 percent, the United States at 18 percent, the United Kingdom at 18.4 percent and Canada at 26 percent.
- The healthcare system in Ireland is on par with the European average. Both public and private health services are provided by the Irish Government’s Health Service Executive (HSE). About 72 percent of healthcare costs are covered by the government, and the remaining costs are paid for through voluntary healthcare payments or out of pocket. In 2013, 40 percent of people living in Ireland had a medical card that provides free healthcare, with the remaining amount being a subsided fee based on income level. Private (religious or community-based) healthcare is also available at a fraction of the cost of other developed countries.
- The cost of living in Ireland is high. Good and services cost 25 percent more than the EU average, with high price tags on essentials such as rent, transportation and child care. There are fewer government services for things like childcare and housing, so the Irish have to rely on private companies. The lack of competition from the government keeps the prices high.
- For a full-time worker, the average income is €45,611 per year, a number that has been steadily increasing since 2015. However, the Irish have less disposable income. The OCED average is $30,563, with Ireland averaging $25,439. High personal taxes and the high cost of living eat into these profits.
- The amount of public housing is unable to keep up with the population’s need. Almost one in five Irish families now live in a rented home, which is double what it was 10 years ago. This has caused a shortage of rental properties and a significant increase in the cost of rent. There were 1,709 families who had to utilize emergency accommodation services in October 2018, with 3,725 of them being children. The overwhelming number had lost their homes after rent increases priced them out. Nonprofits such as Focus Ireland work to provide services and temporary housing to those who cannot afford the costs of living.
- Life expectancy in Ireland is 83 for women and 80 for men, higher than the international life expectancy of 72. That is an increase from 2011 when life expectancy was 76.8 for men and 81.6 for women. The significant rise in healthcare, income and education has contributed to a longer life. Current concerns for life expectancy are obesity and alcoholism.
- Ireland ranks 14 out of 156 countries on the World Happiness Report, trailing behind Finland, Norway, Denmark and other Nordic nations. Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, says that the happiest countries “are good at converting wealth into well-being,” a skill the Irish have proven adept at. Ireland also has a strong sense of family and community. At least 96 percent of people surveyed by OECD believed that they had a reliable friend or family member on whom they could lean in times of need.
Ireland has made enormous leaps in development in the past century, enabling the country to improve its living conditions exponentially. The world happiness index has shown that people are willing to tolerate a high cost of living when the quality is above and beyond. However, there will have to be solutions developed for those who find the cost of living too far out of reach, or the current problems will only grow worse.
– Jackie Mead