Man shortage as ratio of men to women hits a historic low

In recent policy debates there has been a focus on the aging of Ireland’s population. However there has also be a substantial change in Ireland’s sex-ratio, and this shift has been most dramatic for the age groups of the late 20s and early 30s, leading to a shortage of men in Ireland.

The first graph show’s Ireland’s sex ratio by age. Following convention this is the ratio of men to women. As can be seen in 2014 there has been roughly 5% more boys born than girls (a sex-ratio of 1.05, or 105 baby boys for every 100 baby girls). This imbalance at birth is due to biological factors. If even numbers of boys and girls were born the ratio would be 1.00. In other countries sex-selective abortions occur where having a male heir is considered more desirable and baby girls aren’t appreciated, but this is not the case in Ireland.

Across the world boys and men have a higher mortality rate (due to both disease, accidents, and violence), meaning the sex-ratio declines with age, so by the age of 24 there is a roughly equal number of boys and girls.

sex-ratio by age
Sex-ratio by age

However, what is striking is how this has changed over time. The second graph shows an increase in the sex ratio for those in their late 20s and early 30s during the construction boom as men migrated into Ireland. Unsurprising, during the crisis men were also more likely to leave. However, sex-ratios have now reached historic lows meaning a shortage of men aged 25 to 34. There are now roughly 10% fewer men than women in this age group.

Ireland's changing sex ratios
Ireland’s changing sex ratios

As I am not a sociologist I will not try predict what the implications for these changing ratios will be for society. In the past (such as in France after the First World War) such changes were a catalyst for the economic independence of women. Of course, unlike France’s war dead there is a chance of these Irish men returning.

Economically this is of concern as women tend to earn less, leading to a lower tax take for the government in the future. These changes make achieving gender pay equality a more pressing issue. However, a lack of male labour may increase employment opportunities for women, helping Ireland achieve gender pay parity.

The original CSO data is available here.


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