Lack of twenty-somethings is having a huge impact on the mix of housing required
Population change means residential development should be weighted towards family homes rather than apartments
While our attention has been focused on rebuilding the economy, profound changes in Ireland’s demographic structure have gone largely unnoticed.
However, an astonishing fact is that the number of twenty-somethings in Ireland has fallen by almost one quarter since 2009 and the decline in Dublin has been even greater.
This generational vacuum has far-reaching implications for all aspects of civil and commercial life, including housing.
A popular misconception – based on the fact that net emigration has been running at more than 30,000 per year in recent years – is that Ireland’s population is falling.
In fact, the opposite is true and, given our prolific fertility rates, the population has actually increased by 360,200 since 2006.
Based on a Census average of 2.73 bodies per occupied dwelling, this implies a natural demand for at least 132,000 additional housing units. This has contributed to a sharp pick-up in Dublin house prices, leading to calls for more new construction to prevent the recurrence of a housing boom.
While these arguments are well made, a more nuanced debate on the appropriate mix of new residential development is in order. For this we need to consider the composition of Ireland’s recent population growth.
Between April 2009 and April 2013, 296,800 babies were born. Nationally, this has led to a 9.1 per cent increase in the number of children under four years, while in Dublin the increase has been 14.3 per cent.
These infants will need all manner of bulky accoutrements which require space when they are growing up. Moreover, they like outside space to play in and their mobility is facilitated by a car park with easy access and the absence of stairs. Clearly, these requirements are not best met by apartments.
Unlike young children, twenty-somethings are life’s natural apartment dwellers. Because they spend less time at home and have yet to accumulate the paraphernalia of family life, space is not a priority.
Instead their emphasis is on location, with proximity to work, social amenities and transport links being the critical factors.
Shockingly, however, the number of people in the 20-29 age group has fallen by 176,200 since 2009 – a decline of 23.2 per cent in just four years.
Again, this trend is more pronounced in Dublin where the number of twenty-somethings has declined 26.3 per cent.
This phenomenon is partly due to emigration: in net terms 60,786 people in their twenties have left since 2009.
The main cause can be traced back to a sharp reduction in birth rates during the 1980s.