The most recent release from Census 2016 Profile 2 – Population Distribution and Movements contains data on the age categories of the population by county. Different age groups have different needs and opportunities so this information is important for planning services for the future and understanding social and economic development issues for our region.
Population in key age categories
The key age categories for analysis are shown in Figure 1 for the Western Region, the Rest of State and for the EU28 (in 2015) along with the projected age structure for the EU 28 in 2080.
The Western Region has 21.1% of its population in the 0-14 age group (the same as the Rest of State), while 15.6% of the EU28 population is in that age category. The county with highest share of young people in its total population in 2016 was Donegal (22.0%) while the lowest were Mayo and Sligo (20.3%).
Figure 1: Population Structure by Age Group
Source: CSO, 2017, Profile 2 – Population Distribution and Movements E2022 and Eurostat (demo_pjangroup) and (proj_13npms)
The category ‘15-64 years’ covers most of the economically active population. In the Western Region the Galway has the largest proportion in this category (65.6%) but this is still lower than the average for the Rest of State (65.9%). Leitrim has the lowest proportion in this age category (61.5%).
There is significant variation among counties in the proportion of the population over 65 years, but all counties have more people in this category (between 13.6% in Galway and 17.5% in Mayo) than the Rest of State (13.0%). Counties, including those such as Mayo, Roscommon and Leitrim which we consider to have high concentrations of older people, have fewer in the older age categories than the EU 28 (18.9%) which is turn is much less than that projected for the EU 28 (28.7%) by 2080.
The population pyramid below (Figure 2) shows the age distribution for the Western Region and the Rest of State in more detail. A peak of births in 1980 shows up in the 35-39 age category, and another peak in the number of births occurred in 2009 and shows up in the 5-9 age category. The smaller numbers in both the 20-24 age category relates to a falling birth rate in that period while the lower number in the 25-29 age categories, and to some extent in the 30-34 are the result of high outward migration. The difference in proportions in these age categories for the Western Region and Rest of State indicate greater out migration from the Western Region.
Figure 2: Population Pyramind for Western Region and Rest of State, 2016
Source: CSO, 2017, Profile 2 – Population Distribution and Movements E2022
The Western Region has a higher proportion of it population than the Rest of State in each of the age categories from 45 years and upwards for females and 40 years and upwards for males. This is also the case for the 10-14 and 15-19 years categories but the more recent higher birth rate in other more rapidly growing counties (especially those surrounding Dublin) means there is a higher proportion of young children in the population in the Rest of State than the Western Region, but these differences are relatively small at the moment.
The Dependency ratio (Figure 3) shows the number of older and younger people compared to the working age population (which for this statistic is considered to be 15-64) as these are potentially the most economically active. In reality many in the 15-19 and 20-24 categories will be in education but it is a useful statistic for comparison purposes.
It is also important to be aware of the differences in population structure among regions and counties when examining economic statistics such as those for income and output. Counties a lower percentage in the economically active age groups have proportionally more dependents. They will tend to have lower per capita income and output levels even where there is no difference in productivity.
Mayo has the highest old age dependency ratio (28.3%) in the country, followed by Leitrim (27.4%) and Roscommon (26.8%) while the lowest nationally is in Kildare (15%). Galway (20.6%) and Clare (23.4%) have the lowest age dependency ratios in the Region but all Western Region counties have a higher age dependency than that for the Rest of State (19.7%).
Figure 3: Old Age, Youth and combined Dependency Ratios, 2016
Source: CSO, 2017, Profile 2 – Population Distribution and Movements E2022, own calculations
The highest youth dependency ratio in the Region is in Donegal (35.3%) and Leitrim (35.1%) but other counties with particularly high birth rates have much higher youth dependency ratios (in Meath it is 39%, Laois 38.3% and Longford 37.2%). In the Western Region the lowest is in Galway (31.8%) and Sligo (32.0%). The Western Region as a whole has a youth dependency ratio of 33.2% compared to 32.1% in the Rest of State.
Combining the youth and old age figures gives an overall dependency figure which gives the proportion of both older and younger people compared to the working age population. In the Western Region this was 57.4% while in the Rest of the State it was 51.8%. This compared to a figure of 52.6% in the EU 28 in 2015.
The Oldest People
Some of the most significant change is population structure is occurring among the ‘older old’, those in the 80+ years category, with increased longevity and ageing of the older population. In Roscommon 4.4% of the population is already in this older age category, while Leitrim (4.27%) and Mayo (4.24%) are the next highest in the state. In contrast, in Kildare only 1.91% are in this category while in Meath it is 2.21%. Some 3.7% of the WR population is over 80 (3.0% in the Rest of State). It is expected that by 2080 in the EU28 12.3% of the population will be over 80, which compares to 5.3% in the EU28 in 2015.
The percentage in the 80+ years category is rising in all counties and, while increased longevity is a significant human achievement, it can have important implications. Those in this age group can experience more poverty and social isolation and poorer health that the ‘younger old’. There is also a significant gender dimension with women having higher survivorship and a lower propensity to re-marry which means they are more likely to live alone. It is important to respond to, and plan for, the needs of this age category and to endeavour to ensure that as many years as possible are lived with as good health and quality of life as possible.
A higher proportion of the Western Region population is in the older and younger age categories than in the Rest of State, in part reflecting the outward migration of those of working age. It highlights the importance of a focus on regional employment provision as a key element of regional development policies. Improving employment prospects would benefit those currently in the youth dependent category, as well as those who are already economically active.
The higher proportion of older people in many Western Region counties means that services for older people are crucial. As much of the Region is very rural we should continue to learn from best practice elsewhere, particularly in Europe, where the ageing of the population is taking place earlier, on how to provide supports and services to an older population in rural areas.
While much of the thinking about ageing populations is on services and supports it should also be remembered that many people in this age category are likely to continue in employment and so this group would also benefit from improved employment opportunities. Currently, 4.5% of the Western Region labour force is over 65, while 13% of those in the 65+ category are in the labour force. This compares to 2.8% of the rest of State labour force over 65 and a 10% participation rate for that age category.
Understanding trends in population and examining the detail for the seven Western Region counties helps us better understand the economy and society of the Region. We will continue to provide analysis of the issues as more results are released from the 2016 Census of Population.
 Rest of State refers to the 19 counties which are not in the Western Region and is used for comparison rather than using a State figures which also include the Western Region.
 Ingham, B., Chirijevskis, A. & Carmichael, F. Pensions Int J (2009) 14: 221.’ Implications of an increasing old-age dependency ratio: The UK and Latvian experiences compared’ doi:10.1057/ https://link.springer.com/article/10.1057%2Fpm.2009.16
 CSO, Quarterly National Household Survey Quarter 1 2016- Special run for the Western Region. See here for more detail https://www.wdc.ie/wp-content/uploads/WDC-Insights-Presentation-DSP-30.01.2017-final.pdf