Housing policy built on shaky foundations
Assumptions about direction of household size not supported by evidence
The rebound in household sizes reflects birth patterns. Between 2008 and 2013 we had a baby boom with more than 70,000 births annually.
Household sizes are critical to housing policy. For a given population they dictate both the number of housing units and the type of houses that we need. In Ireland the average household contracted from four to 2.73 persons between 1966 and 2011. Many explanations have been offered for this, including increased provision of social housing, higher marriage rates and a shift away from agrarian living. However, by 2011, despite 45 years of continuous decline, Irish households remained much larger than the European norm.
Given the sustained downward trend it has been glibly assumed that Irish household sizes would eventually converge with the European Union average of 2.4 persons. Indeed this is factored into official thinking. Rebuilding Ireland – the Government’s action plan on housing – notes declining household sizes as part of the context for its work. Similarly the Housing Agency’s latest supply/demand statement makes reference to the long-term decline in household sizes and predicts that the proportion of smaller households will increase over the coming five years.