The Buzz

Ireland's Death Spiral?

The threat of gender imbalance in China and India—due primarily to culturally-motivated abortions of girls—has been widely reported. But a recent piece in the Irish Independent reveals that at least one Western economy also has too many men.

The Emerald Isle has long been known for its waves of emigration, notably to the United States in the nineteenth century. But shortly after the dawn of the new millenium, many in Ireland thought the days of looking for work abroad were over. Spurred by an economic boom and low tax rates, the "Celtic Tiger" drew many foreign corporations happy to find an inexpensive base for their European operations.

The tiger of course died several years ago, and today Ireland faces unemployment levels of nearly 15 percent. Last year alone, 76,000—in a labor force of just over 2 million—left the country looking for work. And while many in this new wave of migrants are men following a similar path to Irish-Americans—working in what David McWilliams calls "godforsaken" iron ore pits in Western Australia instead of mines in North America—today more of those leaving Ireland are women.

In Ireland as a whole, McWilliams reports, "the number of women between the ages of 20 and 24 fell by 8.7 percent between 2010 and 2011." And among the presumably upwardly-mobile urban dwellers of the once booming capital, the news is even worse: "Overall, between 2010 and 2011, the population between 20 and 24 in Dublin has fallen by 11.9 percent but the disappearance of young women is startling. The young female population in Dublin fell by 15.1 percent last year."

Declining European birth rates have been a reality for decades, but Ireland was once the continent's great hope, in 2008 reporting the highest figure in Western Europe. If the trends Williams reports continue, though, Ireland may be headed instead for a literal death spiral.

Meanwhile, the Irish are praised by the foreign creditors supervising their supposed recovery—the IMF and European Central Bank—as a "model of compliance." This must be cold comfort as they prepare to watch their grandchildren grow up via Skype.