Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Population Boom

The Irish Times today reports that the population of Ireland continues to grow, to reach 6.7 million by 2060. It is striking that prior to the Irish Famine in the 1840s, Ireland's population was over 8 million. This means that after 120 years, Ireland's population still will not have recovered to pre-famine levels. On my family's farm in Ireland there are some old ruined stone houses, from the early 1800s. Back then, our farm would have housed a number of families (at least 4 houses); now there is only one. One of the houses had an orchard, and to this day there are wild apple trees growing there. It is quite strange to walk through the ruined house, pick apples, and wonder what it must have been like back then. Where are the ancestors of the people who lived in that house? Maybe not far from me here in Boston.

Although Ireland's population still has not reached its pre-famine level, at least its population is growing. Ireland is actually the only EU country with population growth and family sizes comparable to the US. The UK is not far behind. But, as the Irish Times article notes, many eastern european countries (such as Poland and Bulgaria) actually have shrinking populations. Part of the reason is inward migration within the EU, in fact often to Ireland and the UK, contributing to the population growth there.

Population growth has been a good thing for Ireland, certainly while the boom lasted there. More people means "more life about the place" as we say in Ireland. Now that the Irish economy is not so hot, the expectation is that many people who migrated to Ireland from other parts of the EU may return home. But, testament to the attractions of Ireland even after the boom has simmered down, many are choosing an Irish future rather than going home. This is good too. The more the merrier.

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