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    Income Distribution and Redistribution in Ireland: A Geographical Exploration

    Walsh, James A. (2023) Income Distribution and Redistribution in Ireland: A Geographical Exploration. Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute, Maynooth. ISBN 978-1-7392351-0-9

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    The distribution and redistribution of household incomes are explored at multiple geographical scales (state, region, county, metropolitan area and electoral district) using several databases compiled by the Central Statistics Office. This work complements an extensive body of published research that has been mostly undertaken at the level of the State without much consideration of trends and patterns at the levels of regions and smaller units. The focus here is primarily on a geographical exploration at different spatial scales of the distribution of incomes and of the factors that have influenced the distributions. International research has concluded that the transition to neoliberal economic strategies in most economically advanced countries over the last forty years was accompanied by an increasing divergence in per capita incomes between regions. In Ireland, however, the impact of neoliberal economic strategies in the context of an exceptionally open economy, was moderated for a period of over twenty years from the mid 1980s by an innovative and dynamic national model of social partnership. Personal and household incomes in Ireland increased significantly over the last 30 years and the overall level of inequality measured across all households in the State decreased, but it is still high in comparison to other EU countries, especially for market-based income. At the regional level, disparities in household incomes have declined but there remain large differences between the Dublin-dominated East region and the strongly rural Border and Midland regions. The transition to lower levels of inequality occurred in phases linked to the trajectory of the national economy. Inter-regional convergence was more likely during periods of significant economic slow-down as in the 1980s and again in the immediate aftermath of the economic and financial crisis in 2008. This particular form of convergence was not due to poorer regions ‘catching up’ with richer regions. It was instead more likely to be associated with a weakening of the stronger regions, while State transfers to low-income households and regions remained more resilient. Over the longer term, the evidence points towards a pattern of convergence between urban and rural areas in average household incomes. The micro-geographical data for 2016 at the level of Electoral Districts provide two important insights that are not apparent from regional data. Firstly, after exclusion of the five largest cities, there is no statistical relationship between median household incomes and the population size of settlements. The relative location of settlements in relation to the larger centres of employment, and especially the extent of commuting, is much more important. Secondly, the 2016 data show that the highest levels of inequality in income distribution profiles occur in both the cities and in some of the poorest rural counties, while the lowest levels are found in counties that experienced the highest levels of population increase over recent decades. The overall distribution map of household incomes is directly influenced by two sets of factors. The first relates to the spatial distributions of employment and earnings in different economic sectors. The second relates to the role of State transfers that provide benefits to a wide range of persons and households. They are especially important for places that may be considered ‘left-behind’ in the overall restructuring of the economy and society. In addition to the direct influences on the geography of incomes levels there are important background factors related especially to demography, education, female participation in the labour force and where households choose to live. The findings from the research have implications for many areas of public policy, most especially in relation to the spatial organisation of economic and social development. These challenges are not unique to Ireland and have contributed to narratives that extend beyond economic considerations to include potential adverse impacts on social cohesion, spatial justice and on basic principles of democracy if the underlying processes are not addressed. The experience from other countries, along with the patterns that remained dominant in Ireland, is that traditional approaches to regional development are no longer adequate. Policies that sought to overcome market failures and that relied on welfare transfers from rich to poor regions did not succeed. Neither did policies that sought to maximise the national economic growth by promoting agglomeration into the largest cities. The more recent focus on place-based development with a more explicit concern for a holistic, human-centred approach informed by principles of spatial justice offers a prospect for a better future in all regions and places. While this research was being undertaken, there were some significant events that may impact on the future geography of incomes in Ireland. These include such international events as the departure of the UK from the EU, the legacy of the COvID 19 pandemic which accelerated a transition to new working arrangements including remote working, and the disruption of the global economy following the Russian invasion of Ukraine with consequent impacts on the costs of living especially for the elderly and those living in some rural areas. In addition, in Ireland there are very significant challenges in relation to the supply and affordability of housing. The critical roles of further and higher education in relation to employment and regional development are being addressed through recent reforms in both sectors, though these need to be linked more strongly to the overall strategy for regional development. Further research is needed to examine in more detail the relationship between the geographical distribution of incomes and commuting, and how it may be impacting on summary measures for rural and urban areas. In addition, a more sophisticated approach to the identification of a multi-level typology of places that includes both urban and rural areas and the linkages between them is urgently required to avoid a risk of over-simplification in the interpretation of the patterns revealed by the data.

    Item Type: Book
    Keywords: Income Distribution; Income Redistribution; Ireland; Geographical Exploration;
    Academic Unit: Faculty of Social Sciences > Geography
    Item ID: 16914
    Depositing User: Prof. Jim Walsh
    Date Deposited: 07 Feb 2023 09:42
    Publisher: Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute
    Refereed: Yes
      Use Licence: This item is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike Licence (CC BY-NC-SA). Details of this licence are available here

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