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The Great Recession and the Changing Distribution of Economic Stress across Income Classes and the Life Course in Ireland: A Comparative Perspective


  • Christopher T. Whelan

    (School of Sociology and Geary Institute for Public Policy, University College Dublin)

  • Brian Nolan

    (Department of Social Policy and Intervention and Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford)

  • Bertrand Maítre

    (Economic & Social Research Institute, Dublin)


The impact of the Great Recession led to changes in the distribution of economic stress across the life course in Ireland, one of the countries severely affected by the economic crisis. Our peak to trough analysis shows that in Ireland in 2008 there was a clear life course gradient in relation to economic stress with children occupying the most favourable and the elderly the least favourable position. Over time the gradient became sharper with the relative position of younger groups deteriorating. In 2008 life course differentiation was significantly sharper for the precarious and poverty classes than for the high income groups. For the former graduated differentiation across the range of the life course was evident while for the latter the primary contrast was between the elderly and all other stages. Thus the major line of differentiation in terms of both overall stress levels and their patterning across the life course was between the precarious and poor income classes and the high income group. While stress levels increased for all groups between 2008 and 2012, within the high income class the elderly group saw their relative position particularly enhanced while children experienced the sharpest deterioration. Among the precarious and poor classes, the elderly again experienced an improvement in their relative position while for the former the sharpest deterioration was experienced by the older middle aged group and for the latter the younger middle aged group. Thus while the elderly experienced a cross class improvement in their relative position for other life course stage the impact of the crisis was contingent on income class. That the Irish pattern of change was not an inevitable outcome of the economic crisis is illustrated by the fact that in Iceland a similar starting produced a quite different set of changes involving an erosion of life course differentials in the impact of precarity and poverty. Greece on the other hand provides an example of the emergence of life course differentiation where the pre-recession period was characterised by their absence. Clearly policy choices not only affect such differentiation but the extent to which they operate differentially across income cases.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher T. Whelan & Brian Nolan & Bertrand Maítre, 2016. "The Great Recession and the Changing Distribution of Economic Stress across Income Classes and the Life Course in Ireland: A Comparative Perspective," Working Papers 201603, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucd:wpaper:201603

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Tim Callan & Brian Nolan & Claire Keane & Michael Savage & John Walsh, 2014. "Crisis, response and distributional impact: the case of Ireland," IZA Journal of European Labor Studies, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 3(1), pages 1-17, December.
    2. Christopher T. Whelan & Bertrand Maitre, 2008. "“New” and “Old” Social Risks: Life Cycle and Social Class Perspectives on Social Exclusion in Ireland," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 39(2), pages 131-156.
    3. Christopher Whelan & Helen Russell & Bertrand Maître, 2016. "Economic Stress and the Great Recession in Ireland: Polarization, Individualization or ‘Middle Class Squeeze’?," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 126(2), pages 503-526, March.
    4. Jenkins, Stephen P., 2011. "Changing Fortunes: Income Mobility and Poverty Dynamics in Britain," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199226436.
    5. 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).
    6. Unknown, 2013. "Editorial Introduction," African Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, African Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 8(3), pages 1-2, September.
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    2. Liam Kneafsey & Aidan Regan, 2019. "The Role of the Media in Shaping Attitudes Toward Corporate Tax Avoidance: Experimental Evidence from Ireland," Working Papers 201904, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
    3. repec:spr:eujhec:v:20:y:2019:i:4:d:10.1007_s10198-018-1019-6 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Aidan Regan & Samuel Brazys, 2017. "Celtic phoenix or leprechaun economics? The politics of an FDI led growth model in Europe," Working Papers 201701, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
    5. Gintare Mazeikaite & Cathal O’Donoghue & Denisa M. Sologon, 2019. "The Great Recession, financial strain and self-assessed health in Ireland," The European Journal of Health Economics, Springer;Deutsche Gesellschaft für Gesundheitsökonomie (DGGÖ), vol. 20(4), pages 579-596, June.

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    Great Recession; income classes; economic stress; life course;

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