Services and statistics – North and South

Growing up in Northern Ireland I readily absorbed the deeply ingrained belief that public services in the north were superior to those in the south. It was an article of faith for me, until I moved south, that health, education and social security were all better in the north. Reality dawned slowly.

We’ve discussed the differences in social security many times on Slugger – my southern parents-in-law get a state pension worth around twice that which my northern parents receive. Unemployment benefit is in the region of three times higher in the south. In 2008, NISRA produced a statistical analysis comparing Northern Ireland and the Republic – Ireland North and South: A Statistical Profile. It details reams of data across multiple sectors sectors – including housing, population, the economy, the labour force, health and education. Although discussed on Slugger before – Andy Pollak blogged about the similarities it showed last year – I think the areas in which real differences emerge are often more significant when analysing the impact of different policy decisions. As Andy has highlighted, there are large similarities north and south, yet pursuing different policies does produce different outcomes.

I’ve highlighted some of the most salient differences below, hopefully it will help spark some debate or thought about the provision of services in the north, as the system works very differently in the south – often with surprising outcomes.

Useful for comparing absolute numbers in 2006 (the last year covered by the study) the Republic had a population of 4.2 million compared with 1.75 million in the north. Both have young populations with 27% under 20 in the south and 28% under 20 in the north. Life expectancy at birth is fairly similar in both jurisdictions (men, women – 75.1, 80.3 in the south compared with 75.2,80.1 in the north).

Below the fold – Health, Education, Households, Transport, Crime and Justice

I’ve long assumed that health outcomes in the UK were slightly better than those in Ireland, however I’d never been able to track down specific data on Northen Ireland. The NISRA section on health is interesting because it gives a break down on various contributing factors such as alcohol consumption or smoking and on various outcomes (e.g. rate of death from cancer). Alcohol consumption is slightly higher in the south by the way, the consumption of hard drugs is also (very) slightly higher, but the consumption of soft drugs is much higher in Northern Ireland. The death rate from cancer in both duristictions is now 182 per 100,000 – but was higher in the south 30 or 40 years ago. Southerners are also heavier (well, fatter) than Northerners. There are substantially less hospital beds available per head in the south than in the north. Some of the difference is likely to be accounted for by demand – the Irish public / private health mix may result in less demand for beds, but on the whole I imagine Northern patients benefit from this situation.
Surprisingly the benchmark infant mortality rate is 27.45% lower in the south than in the north. Would some of the money being spent maintaining NI’s relative large number of beds (348 per 100,000 compared with 309 for the UK as a whole, which has an older average population) be better spent on maternity services?


Andy touched on differences at second level, where more students complete second level in the south than in the north. For me, the most salient stat about education is on page 13 – it almost leaps off the page. There are almost four times as many undergraduates in the Republic of Ireland as in Northern Ireland, while NI’s population is just under half of that of the south’s. A much higher proportion of undergraduates undertake further study in the south than in the north, with all that that means in terms of innovation and attracting investment.

The economy section is worth a read if you want to understand what some of the implications of this may be.


There are remarkable similarities between households north and south, similar numbers own their own homes, although more rent from the state in the north than in the south. The housing bubble didn’t quite get as bubblicious in the north as the south (something to be thankful for) and although house buidling did increase it seems to have peaked at around 18,000 units rather than something closer to the 93,000 units built in the south. All else being equal, (it’s not of course), this suggests that the housing bust should not be as long or deep in the north as in the south.

Despite many complaints about the privatisation of Eircom and a lack of broadband infrastructure in the south (something that doesn’t quite square with the presence of internet and software bemehoths running data centres and development centres in the south) 57% of southerners had broadband internet in 2006 compared with 49% of northerners.


Despite having over twice the population there were 173,000 private cars registered in the Republic in 2006 compared with 102,000 in the north. This is surely due to the high levels of Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) imposed in the south. As second hand cars are substantially cheaper (cars depreciate quite rapidly), and as cars are imported into Ireland – does this suggest that VRT benefits the Irish economy? It could benefit the economy by reducing the amount spent on foreign imports by purchasing lower cost alternatives (second hand cars) locally, leaving more cash to be spent on locally produced products. Completely in contravention of the spirit of the EU of course. The total car stock is roughly in line per head of population in each state, suggesting southerners have a tendendency to drive older second hand cars (to the benefit of the local economy).

The driving test seems to have gotten harder in both the north and the south, with proportionally more passes awarded in the south in 2006. There were about 3 times as many road fatalities in the south as in the north, despite recent road building. Though road fatalities were 30% lower than 1997, with much increased traffic.

Crime and Justice

Perhaps a legacy of the breakdown of law and order due to the troubles in the north, but less people in the north feel safe or very safe walking the streets at night and in their own homes north of the border than south.