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The Great Recession and the Changing Distribution of Economic Vulnerability by Social Class: The Irish Case


  • Christopher T. Whelan

    (School of Sociology and Social Policy, Queen’s University, UCD Geary Institute and School of Sociology, University College Dublin)

  • Bertrand Maítre

    (Economics and Social Research Institute, Dublin)


Ireland provides an interesting case study of the distributional consequences of the Great Recession. To explore such effects we develop a measure of economic vulnerability based on a multidimensional risk profile for income poverty, material deprivation and economic stress. In the context of conflicting expectations of trends in social class differentials, we provide a comparison of pre and post-recession periods. Our analysis reveals a doubling of levels of economic vulnerability and a significant change in multidimensional profiles. Income poverty became less closely associated with material deprivation and economic stress and the degree of polarization between vulnerable and non-vulnerable classes was significantly reduced. Economic vulnerability is highly stratified by social class for both pre and post-recession periods. Focusing on absolute change, the main contrast is between the salariat and the non-agricultural self-employed and the remaining classes; providing some support for notions of polarization. In terms of relative change the higher salariat, the non-agricultural self-employed, the semi-unskilled manual and those who never worked gained relative to the remaining classes. This provides support the notion of ‘middle class squeeze’. The changing relationship between social class and household work intensity reflected a similar pattern. The impact of the latter on economic vulnerability declined sharply, while it came to play an increasing role in mediating the impact of membership of the non-agricultural middle classes. Responding to the political pressures likely to be associated with ‘middle class squeeze’ while sustaining the social welfare arrangements that have traditionally protected the economically vulnerable presents formidable challenges in terms of maintaining social cohesion and political legitimacy.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher T. Whelan & Bertrand Maítre, 2013. "The Great Recession and the Changing Distribution of Economic Vulnerability by Social Class: The Irish Case," Working Papers 201312, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucd:wpaper:201312

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Karl Whelan, 2010. "Policy Lessons from Ireland’s Latest Depression," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 41(2), pages 225-254.
    2. Russell, Helen & Maître, Bertrand & Whelan, Christopher T., 2011. "Economic Vulnerability and Severity of Debt Problems: An Analysis of the Irish EU-SILC 2008," Papers WP402, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).
    3. Sebastian Dellepiane & Niamh Hardiman, 2011. "Governing the Irish Economy: A Triple Crisis," Working Papers 201103, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
    4. Bea Cantillon, 2011. "The Paradox of the Social Investment State. Growth, Employment and Poverty in the Lisbon Era," Working Papers 1103, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
    5. Nolan, Brian & Whelan, Christopher T., 2011. "Poverty and Deprivation in Europe," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199588435.
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    Cited by:

    1. David Madden, 2014. "Winners and Losers on the Roller-Coaster: Ireland, 2003-2011," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 45(3), pages 405-421.

    More about this item


    Great recession; economic vulnerability; social class; middle class squeeze; household work intensity;

    JEL classification:

    • I32 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Measurement and Analysis of Poverty
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs

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