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Population and Labour Force Projections 2017 - 2051

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This report provides projections of both the total population classified by age and sex for the period 2017 - 2051 and of the total labour force classified by age, sex and female marital status for the years 2021, 2026 and 2031.  The Census 2016 ‘usually resident’ population (4,739,597 persons) provides the base for both the population and labour force projections.

Figure 1.1 shows how the population has evolved over the period 1841 – 2016 while table 1.1 shows the components of population change, expressed in the form of annual averages, for each inter-censal period since 1926.


The area representing the Republic of Ireland registered a decline in population from just over 6.5 million in 1841 to 3.1 million in 1911. The overall population level, which remained quite stable at just under three million between 1926 and 1951, declined further to reach a low point of 2.8 million in 1961. The 1960s, 1970s and the first half of the 1980s witnessed a decline in emigration and high level of natural increase culminating in a population total in excess of 3.5 million in 1986. After a slight fall between 1986 and 1991, due mainly to a resumption of net outward migration at the end of the 1980s, the upward trend in population resumed in the early 1990s. Both natural increase and significant net inward migration contributed to record population growth between 2002 and 2006 with the result that the 2006 population of 4.24 million was 50 per cent higher than the low point of 1961. Despite a return to net outward migration in the years leading up to Census 2011 the population continued to grow strongly due mainly to the high number of births.  Ireland's return to net inward migration combined with a decline in the number of births since 2010 resulted in the population climbing to 4.74 million in April 2016.

Table 1.1 Average annual births, deaths, natural increase and estimated net migration for each inter-censal period, 1926 - 2016

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In order to assist the user in assessing the impact of different levels of population change, six population projection variants have been produced.  These national population projections provide statistics on potential future population levels.  This report is not an attempt to predict the future but rather presents how the population could evolve under different scenarios.

The model used for these projections is similar to that used in previous exercises, namely the demographic component method (see Appendix 1) which projects the 2016 usually resident population forward under the chosen assumptions relating to future trends in fertility, mortality, migration and labour force participation.  Two sets of assumptions were chosen for fertility, one for mortality and three for migration up to the year 2051, giving six sets of results altogether. For the labour force projections a single set of assumptions relating to future labour force participation rates to the year 2031 was chosen.

The most up-to-date information available was used in preparing the projections including the results of Census 2016, information on births up to Q2 2016 and results of the Q2 2016 Labour Force Survey (LFS).  Population and migration estimates for 2017 were also examined.

The assumptions were agreed by an Expert Group (see membership in Appendix 3) which met during the period November 2017 to February 2018.  The Central Statistics Office is grateful to the members of the Group for their input and advice during the discussions leading to the adoption of these assumptions.

The following two chapters of this report describe the population and labour force projections results.  The assumptions underpinning these results are outlined in the subsequent chapters.  These assumptions are summarised in the next section.

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The assumptions agreed by the Expert Group to project the population forward from 2017 - 2051 and the labour force from 2017 - 2031 are summarised below. 

Fertility Assumptions Agreed

F1: Total fertility rate to remain at the 2016 level of 1.8 for the lifetime of the projections
F2: Total fertility rate to decrease from 1.8 to 1.6 by 2031 and to remain constant thereafter to 2051

Mortality Assumptions Agreed

Mortality rates for males and females are assumed to improve at 2.5% and 2.0% per annum respectively in the short-term to 2040.

The long-term rate of improvement is assumed to be 1.5% per annum (unchanged since the last report).  The short-term rate declines linearly over a 25 year period to the long-term rate.

These rates are assumed to apply to all ages up to age 90.

These assumptions will result in gains in life expectancy from:

- 79.3 years in 2015 to 85.6 years in 2051 for males
- 83.3 years in 2015 to 88.3 years in 2051 for females

Migration Assumptions Agreed

M1: Net migration +30,000 per annum to 2051
M2: Net migration +20,000 per annum to 2051
M3: Net migration +10,000 per annum to 2051

Labour Force Assumptions Agreed

Persons aged 15 - 24
- Gentle increases in labour force participation anticipated for younger males and females (students and non-students)
- Convergence between males and female labour force participation rates
- 3rd Level attendance – Student rates expected to remain broadly in line with 2016 levels to 2031

Persons aged 25 – 74+
- Increased labour force participation across most 5 year age groups to 2031 for both males and females.
- The largest percentage increases in labour force participation are projected within the older age cohorts
- The number of married women in the labour force is projected to decrease due to declining marriage rates

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While this report contains a number of summary tables, detailed results of the population projections classified by gender and single year of age for each year from 2017 to 2051 are available on the CSO Statbank here.

The detailed projections are provided for the six combinations of fertility and migration assumptions distinguished in the publication i.e. M1F1, M1F2, M2F1, M2F2, M3F1 and M3F2. 

Data on births, deaths and net migration classified by gender are also available for each year from 2017 to 2051.  The labour force results are limited to the summary data contained in this report.

Press Release available here.

Go to: Population Projections Results

CSO statistical publication, , 11am

On-line ISSN: 2565-6074