Population and Poverty in Ireland on the Eve of the Great Famine

50 Pages Posted: 26 Dec 2018

See all articles by Alan Fernihough

Alan Fernihough

Queen's University Management School

Cormac O'Grada

University College Dublin (UCD)

Date Written: December 5, 2018


The link between demographic pressure and economic conditions in pre-Famine Ireland has long interested economists. This paper re-visits the topic, harnessing the highly disaggregated parish-level data from the 1841 Census of Ireland. Using population per value adjusted acre as a measure of population pressure, our results indicate that on the eve of the Great Famine of 1846–50, population pressure was positively associated with both illiteracy rates and the prevalence of poor quality housing. But while our analysis shows that population pressure was one of the primary factors underpinning pre-Famine poverty, it also highlights the importance of geography and human agency. A counterfactual computation indicates that had Ireland’s population stayed at its 1800 level, this would have led to only modest improvements in literacy and housing.

Keywords: Famine, Malthus, Population, Ireland

JEL Classification: N3, B3

Suggested Citation

Fernihough, Alan and O'Grada, Cormac, Population and Poverty in Ireland on the Eve of the Great Famine (December 5, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3296291 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3296291

Alan Fernihough

Queen's University Management School ( email )

25 University Square
Belfast, Northern Ireland BT7 1NN
Northern Ireland

Cormac O'Grada (Contact Author)

University College Dublin (UCD) ( email )

Dublin 4, 4

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