Of the three factors that determine population change (births, deaths and migration) the most influential, volatile and uncertain from an Irish perspective is migration. Over the past 65 years Ireland has moved from periods of high net outward migration in the 1950s through to the early 1970s and again in the late 1980s, to periods of net inward migration in both the late 1970s and again from the late 1990s through most of the 2000s. This is illustrated in fig 6.1 where the dominant influence which migration has exerted on the pattern of population change over the sixty five year period can be clearly seen.
|Natural increase||Population change||Estimated net migration|
Given the difficulties associated in predicting future economic conditions, not alone in Ireland but in the wider global economy, the Expert Group considered it unwise to explicitly factor economic growth into the assumptions on migration but rather decided to outline in a more general way three different scenarios of net inward migration. The group assessed the need for a negative migration assumption but the general view was that average annual migration would tend to be positive in the longer term.
A summary of the three net inward migration assumptions agreed are outlined in the next section. The main items deliberated on prior to reaching agreement are discussed in the subsequent sections, including:
- Recent migration trends
- Economy, labour market and migration
- Housing and infrastructure
- The ageing population and emigration
M1 - Net inward migration of 30,000 per annum
After assessing all of the issues, the group agreed on three net inward migration assumptions. Under the most optimistic migration scenario M1 the group assumed net inward migration of 30,000 per annum from 2017 onwards. 30,000 is around 50% above the 19,800 recorded in 2017, thus allowing for strong net inward migration and above average strong economic growth. The net inward migration figure will manifest itself as an annual rate of 80,000 immigrants and 50,000 emigrants from 2021. See table 6.1.
M2 - Net inward migration of 20,000 per annum
Under the less optimistic scenario of M2 net inward migration is assumed to remain at 2017 levels of 20,000 per annum for the entire period from 2017 – 2051. Annual average net inward migration for the 20 year period from 1997 - 2016 is 21,400. Therefore the M2 scenario is reflecting both current and twenty year average net inward migration trends. The gross flows of 70,000 immigrants and 50,000 emigrants from 2026 are also indicative of the 20 year averages.
M3 - Net inward migration of 10,000 per annum
Under the least positive scenario M3 net inward migration is modelled at 10,000 per annum throughout the life time of the projection and shows as 70,000 immigrants and 60,000 emigrants. 60,000 emigrants is 20% above 20 year average emigration levels and thus allows for higher outward flows during periods of economic downturn and uncertainty.
|Table 6.1 Assumed annual average migration flows, 2016 - 2051|
When the group examined migration flows over the last 20 years, the volatility in Ireland’s net migration is clear to see. The number of immigrants increased dramatically between 1997 and 2008 with the very sharp increases between 2005 and 2007 attributed to the accession of the ten new EU member states in May 2004. Ireland experienced sustained net inward migration over this period. See table 6.2.
|Table 6.2 Estimated migration, 1997 - 2017|
Emigration ranged from 25,000 to 30,000 between 1997 and 2005 before rising between April 2006 and April 2008. This was followed by a sharp rise in 2009 and a period of net outward migration from 2010-2014 as a result of the economic downturn in 2008. Emigration has fallen from 83,000 in 2012 to just less than 65,000 in 2017. Ireland returned to net inward migration in 2015 and immigration has increased steadily from a low of around 42,000 in 2010 to just under 85,000 persons in 2017.
The Expert Group noted that the 20 year period 1998 – 2017 encompassed periods of both economic boom and downturn and that annual average net inward migration over the period amounted to just over 20,000 per annum, with gross average flows of 70,000 immigrants and 50,000 emigrants over the period. The group also noted that net inward migration was estimated to be just below 20,000 in 2017.
The Expert Group noted the correlation between unemployment and net migration. Ireland experienced net outward migration of almost 100,000 between the years 2010-2013 as unemployment rose from around 5% in 2007 to almost 16% in the second quarter of 2012. The steady fall in the unemployment rate in recent years was accompanied by a return to net inward migration in 2014. See fig 6.2.
|X-axis label||Unemployment rate Percent||Net migration Thousands|
The ESRI economic outlook published in December 2016 expects economic growth of around 3.2% annually to 2025. The Expert Group noted that periods of economic growth typically result in low unemployment and significant net inward migration.
The Expert Group also felt that there is still a ‘pull’ factor at play in Ireland with capacity in a number of sectors of the labour market. They noted how the volumes of both Irish and non-Irish immigrants had increased substantially in recent years and felt that this was likely to continue for the foreseeable future. See fig 6.3.
|Irish||UK||Rest of EU15||EU13||Rest of world|
The potential impact of Brexit on the population was assessed. The group felt that Brexit could have both positive and negative impacts on future migration flows. One view was that Brexit could divert increased levels immigration to Ireland from the EU that would otherwise have gone to the UK. The group examined migration data from the UK and noted that in excess of 300,000 EU28 nationals moved to the UK or from the UK in the year to Q1 2017. Ireland’s population estimates have shown a gradual upturn in immigration from the UK in recent years and the group felt that further incremental increases were possible here. See fig 6.4.
The group felt that Brexit could also impact negatively upon economic growth, potentially leading to increased emigration. The group also noted that the impact of Brexit is currently unclear and that this will very much depend on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
|X-axis label||Emigrants to UK||Immigrants from UK|
The Expert Group assessed Ireland’s infrastructure and its capacity for population growth. It was noted that house completions continued to remain below levels seen in the 1990s and substantially below those seen in the 2000s. It was felt that this may act as a limiting factor with regards to the upper limits of net inward migration if this were to continue.
The age distribution of emigrants was discussed and the group felt that emigration levels may decline as the population ages. The group noted that the majority of emigrants were aged between 15 - 44 years (see fig 6.5 below). The group noted that the population of Ireland has been getting steadily older since the 1980's, in Census 2016, 37.2 per cent of the population was aged 45 years or older compared to 34.4 per cent in 2011 and 27.6 per cent in 1986.
|65 and over||45 - 64||25 - 44||15 - 24||0 - 14|
The age distribution of migrants for the period 2017 - 2051 is derived from flows observed for the inter-censal period 2011 - 2016 while the gender distribution of migrants for the period 2017 - 2051 is derived from migration flows recorded for the period 1997 - 2016.
While this report contains a number of summary tables, detailed results of the population projections from 2017 to 2051 are available on the CSO Statbank here.
Go to: Labour Force Assumptions