Agriculture is the most unequal sector in the Irish economy - report

Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Emerging findings from a new research report on inequality in Ireland shows that the agricultural sector is the most unequal sector in Ireland when it comes to the distribution of income.

It is also more unequal compared to peer small, open European economies and the UK.

The report, called The State We Are In: Inequality in Ireland Today, is produced by TASC, the Think Tank for Action on Social Change. 

It is first time that a research think tank in Ireland has looked comprehensively at inequalities between different economic sectors.  The report will be launched in full in February, as part of a broader look at inequality generally across Ireland and Europe.

Agriculture in Ireland is the most unequal sector in the economy when working time is controlled for – that is, when seasonal and part-time work are taken out of the equation. 

The research also suggests that the unequal distribution of agricultural income may be due to the sector having many unskilled workers employed by farm owners, along with the fact that very profitable large farms co-exist with less profitable small farms.

For historical reasons, Ireland has a comparatively large agricultural sector and so conditions within it affect relatively larger numbers of workers.  Approximately 105,000 people (4.6% of the workforce) are employed in agriculture, concentrated in rural areas.

“High pay inequality is a feature of almost every sector of the Irish economy, when compared against small, open economies and the UK,” explained Dr Robert Sweeney, Policy Analyst with TASC. 

“Though the top incomes that drive inequality nationally are concentrated in urban areas, some of the most unequal sectors, such as agriculture, are disproportionately located in non-urban areas.

"Moreover, because rural areas are less affluent, reducing inequality would disproportionately benefit rural Ireland.

"However, the government is set to reduce spending relative to national income in the coming years, which will impact rural areas especially, as they are not only poorer but also older.”

Another poor performer when it comes to equality is the retail sector, which contains the highest number of low paid jobs, which are generally low-skilled.  The report also finds that the hospitality sector in Ireland, another large employer for people in rural areas, is the worst paid sector with wages amounting to just 54% of the national average, compared to 64% of national incomes in peer economies.

One of the most surprising emerging findings of the new research on sectoral inequalities is that income within the health and social sector in Ireland is much more unequal than the comparator country averages.  This, the research suggests, reflects health policy features peculiar to Ireland – namely the choice to pursue a more market-oriented approach to medicine and care in Ireland where “high-earning medical professionals co-exist with an often precarious, feminised social sector.”

Conversely, education and public administration are among the more equal sectors in Ireland.  High public-sector employment, coupled with better organised labour (unionisation) could explain the more even distribution of labour income in these sectors, the report suggests.

Online Editors