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Exporting Poor Health: The Irish in England

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In the twentieth century, the Irish-born population in England has typically been in worse health than both the native population and the Irish population in Ireland, a reversal of the commonly observed healthy migrant effect. Recent birth cohorts living in England and born in Ireland, however, are healthier than the English population. The substantial Irish migrant health penalty arises principally for cohorts born between 1920 and 1960. In this article, we attempt to understand the processes that generated these changing migrant health patterns for Irish migrants to England. Our results suggest a strong role for economic selection in driving the dynamics of health differences between Irish-born migrants and white English populations.

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  1. Our assumptions are spelled out in Table S1 of Online Resource 1. We correct for participants stating “no education,” by using the question, “How old were you when you completed this?” Table S2 (Online Resource 1) displays those in the “no education” category who have some formal schooling.

  2. In LII, respondents were asked, “In general, how good would you say your health is? Would you say it is (1 very good, 2 good, 3 fair, 4 bad, 5 very bad)?” For HSE, respondents were asked, “How is your health in general? Would you say it was (1 very good, 2 good, 3 fair, 4 bad, 5 very bad)?” Questions used in both surveys are highly comparable on outcome measures.

  3. There is a long history of migration of Irish people to Scottish cities, particularly Glasgow, so the Irish in Scotland are an interesting subject of study. We do not have access to data that allow a detailed health comparison as in with the HSE. The 2001 census figures show 21,774 people from the Republic of Ireland living in Scotland.

  4. Data are from the Irish and UK censuses. The number of Irish people living in England declined from 2001 to 2010. The 2010 population figures list 398,000 Irish-born people living in the United Kingdom.

  5. Migration of those born in the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland was of a much smaller scale than migration to England. In the 2001 census, migrants to Northern Ireland represented 2.3 % of the total Northern Ireland population. In total, there were 39,051 such individuals living in the North from a total population of 1,685,267 in the North.

  6. TILDA respondents were asked four questions as part of a self-completion “drop-off” questionnaire: “Before you were 18 years old, were you ever physically abused by either of your parents?; . . . were you ever physically abused by anyone other than your parents?; . . . were you ever sexually abused by either of your parents?; . . . were you ever sexually abused by anyone other than your parents?” Parental and non-parental sexual abuse were combined into one sexual abuse variable, “sexual abuse”; similarly, parental and nonparental physical abuse were combined into one variable, “physical abuse.” A “total abuse” variable was constructed that takes a value of 1 if any abuse was reported across the four categories.

  7. See documentation on the Ryan Commission website (

  8. See volume 1, chapter 3 of the Commission Report for a detailed description of numbers and reasons for admission.

  9. Marriage and smoking are measured in the HSE and LII, so we construct comparable measures of proportion currently married, proportion divorced or separated, and proportion widowed across each cohort. For smoking, we construct two variables: current smoker and ever smoked. Our measure of alcohol volume is constructed using HSE data by combining average units consumed and frequency across several different alcohol classes. Respondents who answered that they never drink were asked, “Have you always been a non-drinker, or did you stop drinking for some reason? (1 Always a non-drinker, 2 Used to drink but stopped).” We use this to construct the variable Fraction who stopped drinking. There are no comparable drinking variables in the LII.


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Thanks to Christian Danne and Iva Maclennan for excellent research assistance. Delaney acknowledges generous support from the Fulbright Commission and the Center for Health and Wellbeing, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University. RAND research was funded from a grant by the National Institute on Aging.

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Correspondence to James P. Smith.

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Delaney, L., Fernihough, A. & Smith, J.P. Exporting Poor Health: The Irish in England. Demography 50, 2013–2035 (2013).

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