Is Ireland still no country for young people?

Rising rents here and better career opportunities away: why young people still leave

In the year up to April 2018, 12,500 people aged 15-24 left Ireland. The figure stands in stark contrast with the numbers who emigrated at the peak of the recession. Between April 2011-2012, 35,800 in the same age group emigrated in the face of an uncertain future in Ireland.

While emigration has slowed dramatically, the recent figures - published by the Central Statistics Office in September - show that young people are still choosing to leave Ireland, despite economic recovery. While some choose to leave for adventure and to see the world, others are going for a better quality of life, better work contracts and cheaper and more accessible housing.

A survey of students released in October by Grad Ireland indicates that, despite strong improvements in the Irish jobs market, many students still feel that their opportunities are limited. Thirty-five per cent of respondents believed it would be hard to get a good job after graduation, which could be influencing some young people to emigrate in the hope of finding better career opportunities abroad.

This sense of unease about job opportunities is coupled with a prohibitively high cost of living in Ireland - particularly in cities, where the bulk of job opportunities exist. Rent is a major concern for young people looking to live and work in any of Ireland’s biggest cities, particularly Dublin, which has seen a persistent rise in rental costs year on year.


According to the most recent rental report, the average rent in Dublin City Centre is now €2,016 per month, and in South Dublin that stands at €2,156. The average rent across the Republic of Ireland is now €1,334 per month - the highest figure since the property website started compiling reports.

And there is no end in sight. A Government report released in July concluded that the housing crisis was likely to persist for the "foreseeable future", and said Ireland's housing shortage was "one of the most prominent risks and challenges facing the country".


Marie-Claire McAleer, head of research and policy with the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI), welcomes the fall in the number of young people leaving Ireland.

“It’s important to acknowledge the decline,” she says. “At that time [IN 2011], large scale migration really reflected what was happening in the country with the financial crisis, and really stands in stark contrast with what we’re seeing at present.”

It is important also to note that young people have always left Ireland, she says, even before the recession, but there are a number of issues that could still be pushing young people to emigrate.

“There are issues around being able to secure a job which has a decent salary, which has career progression options,” she says. “The issue of housing is also a significant challenge. Soaring rental costs are extremely prohibitive for young people on low incomes, so there are many factors at play,” she says.

“The trend of slowing emigration is very positive, but it also signals the need for a greater investment in housing to sustain that large and growing youth population.”

This rings true for 24-year-old Jennifer Purcell, who moved to London in September 2017. As well as a desire for adventure - and to be with her partner, who was living in London - she saw the high cost of rent in Dublin as unsustainable, and her career prospects poor.

“When I finished my degree, there weren’t really many permanent jobs available in the media in Dublin. So then I thought, if I’m going to be paying rent, do I want to be paying €700 or €800 to live in Dublin, or make a go of it in London? There are way more opportunities and chances to get a job there.”

Purcell is now marketing and communications officer with the London Irish Centre in Camden.

“Overall it was weighing up the pros and cons of both. I love Dublin, and I would live and work there, but I just felt for the cost of living there, it made sense to have a bigger pool of opportunity and to pay the same in London.”

Her decision to leave Ireland was also influenced by the eight weeks she spent living in Dublin while completing a media internship after graduating. During that time, she was able to stay with her brother, but the rental landscape worried her.

“A number of my friends live and work in Dublin, and the majority of their monthly income is going on rent. They mightn’t necessarily even be central. In London, I can literally just hop on the tube and I’m in work in 20 minutes.”

Housing crisis

In her experience, the housing crisis and rising rental costs in Ireland are “a huge factor” contributing to youth emigration. The low cost of healthcare in the UK is also a big appeal.

“You can just go and see a doctor when you need to see a doctor, without having to worry about paying for this, that and the other.”

But Purcell doesn’t see herself as a permanent emigrant.

“I didn’t move to London with the desire to settle here,” she says. “I don’t think it’s somewhere I’d like to raise a family, or spend most of my life. I intend to stay here for a couple of years, but we’ll see what happens.”

Katie Devlin wanted to get a start working in the fashion industry, so New York seemed like the right place, and she left Ireland in September 2017. Her decision was also influenced by the high cost of living in Dublin, which would have been the only place in Ireland she could have started her fashion career.

“My rent here in Queen’s in New York is still cheaper than it was in Dublin,” says Devlin, who currently works in Vogue’s online department.

“Living in Dublin today is a massive challenge. As a student, it’s hard to focus on your studies because a part-time job won’t even pay your rent. It’s hard, especially when you’re in a creative field, to do something that’s going to pay you enough so that you can also support yourself.”

Making a living as a young person in a city like London or New York is not necessarily easier, she says, but the work and life experiences you gain can make the hard slog worthwhile.

“It’s still going to be challenging…. But I think that if you’re going to pay all that money, you’re going to want to have an experience that maybe you wouldn’t have had at home, even if it’s just for a short time.”

She doesn’t know yet when she will return to Ireland - if ever. “I think if I go anywhere else, it’ll be London. It’s more of a middle ground. It’s closer to home.”

The cost of living in Ireland - especially the high cost of rent in Dublin - is of particular concern to the housing activist group, Take Back The City. They have made headlines in recent months for their occupation of vacant buildings owned by absentee landlords in Dublin.

Shane Finnan, one of the young activists working with the group, believes many young people in Ireland are currently experiencing "delayed adolescence" - where they are forced to live with their parents into their 20s and 30s - and that this is likely to have a big impact on those thinking of leaving.

“It’s outrageous that people have to leave home because it’s financially impossible to stay,” he says. “I read an article recently that said that Dublin is now more expensive to live in than Silicon Valley. That’s ridiculous. The government is trying to peddle a narrative that there has been a meaningful economic recovery, but that’s not being experienced by working class young people.”

Finnan believes young people should be able to travel and “expand their horizons”, by all means, but “they shouldn’t be coerced out of their homes”.