Sunday 19 November 2017

An out-of-focus look into the lives of Mr and Ms Average

Census reveals most of us are 37, married with 1.38 children

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

It's a blurry shot and slightly out of focus, but the first snapshot taken of the nation in five years has finally emerged.

It represents the fruits of our collective inky-fingered endeavours on census night when we attempted to shoehorn the messiness of our day-to-day lives into the neat perfection of the boxes drawn up by the Central Statistics Office.

With the population increasing by 173,613 to 4,761,865 since the Census 2011, the questions remains - can a Mr or Ms Average even be said to exist in the eclectic Ireland of today?

According to Census 2016, they can indeed.

The 'average' person in Ireland is aged 37.4, married and living in a household with their 1.38 children, in one of Ireland's mushrooming urban centres - most likely Dublin or perhaps in one of the rapidly growing towns with a population of 10,000 people or over.

They own their family home - with a mortgage, naturally.

The house is likely detached or semi-detached, heated by natural gas and with a broadband connection (which is probably erratic when it comes to watching Netflix, let's face it).

This average person identifies himself or herself as a Catholic and does not claim to be an Irish speaker.

After that, the 'general' picture breaks up - perhaps reassuringly. We are more than the sum of our statistics, after all.

The finer details will be forthcoming - with a detailed report on Housing in Ireland to be released in two weeks' time, along with later reports on age, homelessness and commuting, among other issues.

Tellingly, Deirdre Cullen, senior statistician with the CSO, said that previously they left the housing as one of the last things to be analysed but this time they turned to it first.

"We've brought it forward because of the importance of the area," she explained.

The housing crisis does, indeed, loom large - even in this blurry snapshot.

The figures show that 497,111 households were renting on census night - an increase of 22,323 in five years. Somewhat surprisingly, the biggest increases in the number of those renting was in Cavan and Kilkenny.

The proportion of owner-occupied households has dropped from 69.7pc in 2011 to 67.6pc in 2016 - hardly adequate when the population itself has risen by 3.8pc.

Only 2pc of dwellings were built in the five years leading up to Census 2016 - a clear as day indication of the lack of new housing schemes that have come on stream.

Just 33,436 dwellings were built across Ireland between 2011 and 2016.

Flats and apartments have shown the biggest growth rate, at 13pc.

Even the decline in bedsits - on the surface a good thing - points to the serious stress being endured by people desperately seeking housing.

The number of bedsits fell from 5,700 to 2,800 in 2016 following new rules for minimum standards.

John Fitzgerald, economist with the ESRI, said the tightening of regulations could not have come at a worse time.

He believes there are people homeless today who could be living in bedsits, which are certainly "better than nothing".

There are signs, too, of other battle scars on the Irish social landscape.

The number of people identifying themselves as Catholic has fallen dramatically, with 10pc of the population now identifying as being of no religion - in a clear fallout from the crisis the Church itself has faced in the wake of revelations of clerical child abuse.

The census shows that just over 83pc of the Traveller population lived in permanent housing.

The background to the water charges row is to be seen in the census report, which shows that some 27pc of households outside towns and cities get their water from private sources other than public mains or group schemes.

The furore over rural broadband, too, is on a sound footing - with statistics showing that 312,982, or 18.4pc, of dwellings had no internet connection.

The general decline in the vibrancy of rural Ireland is also clearly visible in the CSO mirror, with towns and cities sucking out the youth in search of jobs and opportunities.

Mayo and Donegal saw a decline in their population, while Ireland is steadily becoming a more urbanised nation.

Fingal in Dublin stands out because of its strong growth rate- expanding 8pc in the past five years, which is more than twice the rate of the State. Overall, Leinster accounted for 55.3pc of the national population in 2016, compared with 54.6pc in 2011.

In all, there were 62,552 more people living in Dublin in 2016 than five years previously - standing at 1,173,179 in 2016.

Some of the most interesting nuggets crop up by way of an aside in the census report - such as the 1pc of Travellers in Cavan who live in caravans or a mobile home, that 71,944 visitors spent census night in Ireland, or that women outnumber men in the separated or divorced category - the statisticians explain this means the men are more likely to remarry.

This was the first census to record same sex partnerships, with 6,034 same sex couples in Ireland.

The number of Irish residents born outside Ireland continues to increase, standing at 810,406 in 2016, with the UK, Brazil and Poland accounting for most.

We will learn more as the snapshot develops.

Irish Independent

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