The Great Recession, Austerity and Inequality: Lessons from Ireland

M. Savage, T. Callan, B. Nolan, B. Colgan

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The advent of the Great Recession and the widespread adoption of fiscal austerity policies have heightened concern about inequality and its effects. We examine how the distribution of income in Ireland—a country which experienced one of the most severe economic contractions—has evolved over the years 2008 to 2013. Standard cross-sectional analysis of the income distribution shows broad stability in the Gini coefficient and in decile shares, with one main exception: the share of the bottom decile fell sharply, with the largest fall in average incomes being for that group. Longitudinal analysis shows that the falls in the average income for the bottom decile were not due to decreasing income for those remaining in the bottom decile, but to falls in income from those initially located in higher deciles. The extent of redistribution through taxes and transfers increased strongly, as measured by the Reynolds-Smolensky index, which rose from 0.20 before the onset of the crisis to 0.27 in 2013. Analysis indicates that about three-quarters of this increased redistribution is due to automatic stabilisers and one-quarter to discretionary policy changes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)312-336
Number of pages25
JournalReview of Income and Wealth
Issue number2
Early online date22 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • D31
  • D63
  • decomposition
  • H24
  • income distribution
  • inequality
  • longitudinal
  • microsimulation


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