Who are the Irish in Britain? Evidence from large- scale surveys

Publication type

Research Paper

Series Number



Working Papers of the ESRC Research Centre on Micro-Social Change


Publication date

August 1, 1997


Britain has always been one of the most important destinations for Irish emigrants. For information on their experience as immigrants we have two main sources: the personal experience of anecdote, journalism and other writing on the one hand, and Census (and more recently Labour Force Survey) information on the other. These sources are poles apart: rich but on-representative, or representative and extremely thin. Detailed sample-survey information is rare because, numerous as they are, Irish nationals form a very small proportion of the British population and therefore require a large (or specialised) sample before they show up in sufficient numbers. The Labour Force Survey (with a sample size of c.150,000) estimates a population of c.550,000 Irish nationals, but cannot say much about matters unrelated to employment and training. The British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) has a much smaller but nonetheless moderately large sample, and covers a small but sufficient number of Irish people to carry out useful analysis. It has rich information, both about current state and -- perhaps more interestingly -- about life histories. In conjunction with the British section of the European Community Household Panel survey (ECHP), a substantially similar survey in terms of content and sampling, we have a valuable source of information on the Irish in Britain. Who are they? When did they come to Britain and what is their age distribution? What sorts of jobs do they do, and what sort of education do they have? How do newer immigrants differ from those who came in the mass migration of the 1950s? With the BHPS respondents, we can analyse their entire work life history, including that before coming to Britain. Along with the LFS, which is big enough to be representative, the BHPS and ECHP provide a opportunity to draw a picture of the Irish in Britain today that is more detailed than other published sources. They produce a picture that is more representative than journalistic or qualitative methods provide, yet much richer than published official statistics.



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