Despite nearly two centuries of substantial migrant flows from Ireland to England, and despite this being a central feature of the cultural identity and history of both nations, the socio-economic position of those of Irish heritage within Britain is poorly understood. A new CEPR study by Neil Cummins and Cormac Ó Gráda presents the most extensive documentation of the socio-economic assimilation of the Irish in England to date, using the universe of probate and vital registers of births, marriages and deaths, from England, and identifying the Irish in the records as those individuals with distinctively Irish surnames. The authors measure status in two ways; wealth at death, and infant mortality thus capturing ethnic inequality both at the start and end of life. Among the findings:
- The research finds that from at least the mid-19th century the Irish in England have persisted as an underclass, 30-50% poorer than the English.
- This lower wealth is not an artifact of the return migration of richer, older Irish to Ireland. The ‘Irish’ are always poorer than the English, and this pattern is persistent throughout 1858-2018.
- Remittances can only potentially explain a small proportion of the Irish wealth gap.
- While the Scottish in England, and later the Welsh, closed the wealth gap by the 1990s, the Irish do not share in this convergence.
- Infant mortality is about 25% higher for the Irish during 1838-1950 but has subsequently equalised.
- The migration of the Irish into areas with higher infant mortality rates does potentially explain some of the inequity.
The authors discuss the potential roles of selective migration, social mobility, and discrimination, and call for future research to identify the forces that have kept the Irish as an underclass in England for so long.
Figure: Average Real Wealth of the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English, 1858-2018