Do we have enough people in Ireland?
In 1845, before the great famine, the population of Ireland stood at 8.5 million, which was exactly half of the 17 million population of the United States at the time. The US now has a population of 330 million, we have dropped from 50% to 1.5% of the US population. Today, in our near neighbour the Netherlands, over 500 people live at a high standard per square kilometre, here in Ireland it is 72 people per square kilometre.
While Ireland’s population continues to grow at just over 1% per year, population decline is a serious problem for many developed countries. The average fertility rate to sustain a population is 2.1 births per woman over the course of her life, currently the fertility rate in Ireland is 1.7 and even at that low figure we are the third highest in Europe. The total number of births in Ireland peaked in 2008 at 75,000. On the back of various economic crises and changing lifestyles we are now down to under 56,000 births last year.
Many developed countries try to solve their low fertility rates at least in part through immigration- Germany, Italy and the United States are examples. Countries such as Japan that have negligible immigration are planning their economy and social services not only for an aging population but for a declining population. Japan’s population peaked in 2007 and has been declining ever since. This can mean there will not be enough young people working to pay the pensions of the elderly.
The pandemic has meant that life expectancy has reduced in many developed countries. This may be temporary but there is evidence to show that life expectancy had been plateauing in many countries even before the pandemic. If death rates are higher, birth rates struggle to keep up and populations can decline.
Businesses generally want to see populations grow. From a business perspective it makes sense, more people mean more customers. A growing population usually means a growing economy and more opportunities for business to develop new innovations and services.
But not everyone agrees, some believe Ireland is overpopulated and want to save natural resources and the environment by moderating population growth. Others don’t want housing developments or infrastructure built near where they live and want to preserve things as they are.
At an individual level, many would-be mothers are finding it harder and harder to juggle their careers, lack of housing, lack of childcare facilities and increasing bills. They are opting to start families later, if at all. They feel they are being neglected and don’t want to carry most of the burden of raising the next generation of consumers and taxpayers.
There are certainly many moving parts contributing to whether a population grows or declines, and the consequences are very far reaching for every society.
What do you think? Do we have too few or too many people in Ireland? Who should be responsible for deciding? What should we do about it?