LSE: Two centuries of wealth gap persists for Irish in England

A ‘wealth gap’ between the Irish in England and the English has persisted for nearly two centuries according to new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

The paper, (1) published by CEPR (2), shows that Irish people, living in England, are 30 – 50 per cent poorer than the English.

There is also a lower share of the Irish in the top one per cent of wealth holders in England. The Irish have about 75 per cent of the probability of the English of belonging to this ultra-wealthy group.

The researchers, Neil Cummins, Professor in LSE’s Department of Economic History, and Cormac Ó Gráda, Professor Emeritus in University College Dublin’s School of Economics, looked at probate records and registers of births, marriages and deaths from England 1838 – 2018 to document the status of the Irish in England. They identified the ‘Irish’ in the records as individuals with distinctively Irish surnames.

They took account of age at death and found that the ‘Irish wealth penalty’ was not because of older, potentially wealthier Irish returning home, resulting in their wealth being missing from English probate records. Nor can people sending remittances home to Ireland explain the Irish Wealth gap.

The researchers also found that infant mortality was about 25 per cent higher for the Irish than the English until 1950, but this has since equalized.

Professor Cummins said: “The Irish experience has been worse than that of the English, both at the beginning and at the end of life.

“Within the English, there is a social class churning of families over time, but the Irish in England stay unusually poor over multiple generations.

“One possibility is that this is because there was a constant replenishing stock of poorer, mainly working class Irish migrating, to work in the northern industrial cities of England and pockets of London.

“But our research also raises questions over if and how the Irish have been discriminated against in the labour market.”

The research found that the Irish experience is in direct contrast to the Scots in England who are richer, on average, than the English and have 50 per cent greater representation among the top one per cent of wealth holders.

The Welsh in England are poorer than the English and have a lower probability of being in the top one per cent. However, by around 1990 Welsh average wealth was close to that of the English.

Dr Cummins said: “It may be that because Scotland had industrial cities – unlike Ireland which was mainly agricultural – skilled workers such as engineers and managers migrated South and managed to preserved their social capital and wealth over subsequent generations.

“However, it’s early days in understanding what’s really going on here. Our work is the first to apply modern methods to analyse this data that was collected over many centuries, revealing hidden inequalities and things about the English social landscape that we weren’t previously aware of.”