Economic and Social Review Winter 2014 Issue

Free online:


Maternal Country of Birth Differences in Breastfeeding at Hospital Discharge in Ireland PDF
Aoife Brick, Anne Nolan 455-484
Middle Class Squeeze? Social Class and Perceived Financial Hardship in Ireland, 2002-2012 PDF
Peter Mühlau 485–509
Testing the Permanent Income Hypothesis for Irish Households, 1994 to 2005 PDF
Petra Gerlach-Kristen 511–535

Policy Section Articles

Averting Crisis? Commentary from the International Institutions on the Irish Property Sector in the Years Before the Crash PDF
Ciarán Michael Casey 537–557
How Have Contracts for Difference Affected Irish Equity Market Volatility? PDF
Shaen Corbet, Cian Twomey 559–577
Telework Isn’t Working: A Policy Review PDF
Michael Hynes 579–602


24 replies on “Economic and Social Review Winter 2014 Issue”

Good paper on breastfeeding. As the spouse of a breastfeeding mother-of-three I can confirm the subtle hostility breastfeeding mothers encounter from other Irish mothers who didn’t breastfeed. Actual examples:

1. A woman whom we barely know but is a friend of our neighbour literally crossed the street to tell Mrs E to give up breastfeeding and not to be ‘such a martyr and be so hard on yourself’.
2. My sister-in-law regaled us with the freedom she had after her children were born and were bottlefed which meant she could be out and about and not confined to the house.
3. Numerous references by other mothers to the lack of freedom when breastfeeding or snide references to having called to visit a new born who is being breastfed and being unable to talk to the mother properly as baby was on the boob all night.
4. Bottlefed babies gain weight more quickly and this is regarded as a ‘good thing’ by bottle feeding mothers.
5. Numerous references to mothers who tried it ‘but it was just too difficult and there was no point in being stressed’.

A midwife explained to us that all mothers intuitively know that breastfeeding is best but because they didn’t try it or gave it up they seek to subtly undermine other mothers who are successfully breastfeeding.

I believe there is a sociology doctorate to be gained in looking at the reasons Irish women dropped breastfeeding so rapidly, almost alone among the OECD countries. My theories include:

• Irish people in general are the least conservative in the world and adapt to every new fad with a zeal unmatched in other western countries; we are terrified of being called backward and breastfeeding was associated with backwardness and something only poor people did.

Some blunt observations:
• Irish breastfeeding mothers are almost exclusively older and middle-class. My wife knows of no Irish working class breastfeeding mothers – and it is not because she doesn’t know any working class women.
• We believe the rates are massively overstated. Mothers may be breastfeeding on leaving the hospital on Day 3 but as soon as they go into their own community they will experience the hostility mentioned above and we believe the rates will drop quickly within a week or so.
• Most midwives or public health nurses – if mothers themselves – did not breastfeed and so are lukewarm at best in their support of new mothers who do want to breastfeed. If a mother didn’t breastfeed herself we believe it will be almost impossible for her to be enthusiastic about recommending it to other mothers even if it is official HSE policy and part of her job description.
• Most Irish women who do choose to breastfeed will have mothers who did not breastfeed and so there is no family support. This is true in the case of Mrs E.
• There is still huge ignorance out there about breastfeeding e.g. baby needs additional fluids when being breastfed, you never know if baby has had enough, etc.
• We just keep quiet about all the benefits: low cost, fewer (if any at all) visits to the doctor, no skin rashes, no chest/ear infections, no nappy rashes, no sterilising bottles and measuring out baby food, helps mother lose baby weight quickly, health benefits for the mother, and – best of all – I don’t have to get up to do ‘night feeds’. Well, OK, that’s a bit selfish but I help out in other ways.

The v. useful paper by PETER MÜHLAU [debunking the squeezed-middle thesis is well worth reading – class analysis can be very revealing ….

…. followed by the most recent from the neu_ESRI linked below.

‘Single unemployed people without children have been hardest hit by budget cuts since the crash, and retired people have lost the least, according to new research. Those on the lowest incomes were found to have lost the greatest amount of household income as a result of Budget 2015.

While budgets since 2008 have reduced the incomes of all income groups, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) says the percentage losses were greatest for people with the highest and lowest incomes.
In Distributional Impact of Tax, Welfare and Public Service Pay Policies: Budget 2015 and Budgets 2009-2015, an analysis of the impact of sustained fiscal retrenchment, the ESRI found that: the richest 10 per cent of households lost about 15½ per cent, mainly from tax increases and public service pay cuts; l budget-related losses incurred by households with incomes in the poorest 10 per cent were “higher than average”, at close to 13 per cent; middle-income households had “lower, though still substantial, losses” due to budgets, from 10 to 11 per cent.

The esri paper out this morning has a chart showing budget 2015 as extremely regressive with the top income decile having the best outcome proportionately. That is in direct contradiction to a similar chart released by the DoF after the budget was announced.

The chart also shows the bottom 6 deciles as being woes off after the budget. That contradicts the following statement made by Michael Noonan in the Dail:

“Analysis of the taxation measures in the budget based on the ESRI SWITCH tax-benefit model indicates that all household deciles will gain from the income tax measures in Budget 2015.”

Can anyone explain these discrepancies? The income tax changes in the budget were explicitly intended to cap the reduction in tax liability at €70k. How is it then that those earning above that have gained proportionately the most? The esri paper contains very little explanatory detail. The water tax alone cannot explain the difference since €160 is a very small fraction of incomes over €70k.

Minister Burton has also gone on record saying that all households will be better off next year even after the water tax is included. So how is it the esri thinks 60% will be worse off?

What am I missing here?

Benefitting the well off is not a bug; it’s a feature. If the government had wanted to target relief on the lower-paid, they could easily have done so through changes to the USC. They chose not to and, if the press is to be believed, still choose not to in future budgets.

The only people perplexed by this are those who somehow persist in thinking that this government is somehow not all about protecting and rewarding those who are already wealthy. If wealth=virtue and “wealth creation”=the most righteous kind of worldly action, isn’t that the only moral stance possible?

@ Elia

It’s a good paper on breastfeeding. Another factor that the authors weren’t able fully to address is the number of mothers who wanted or intended to breastfeed against those who actually did. The first days after birth are of course vital, and many new mothers need assistance and encouragement to successfully breastfeed. Trained nurses need to be available in the hospitals and in a position to provide this crucial early support.

Some comparative Eurostat data.,_consumption_per_capita_and_price_level_indices

Concentration on only one side of the coin – taxation -may provide a satisfying way of scoring political points. But that is all that is.

Austerity has certainly impacted Ireland but the country is far from being the worst case. The burden has also been shared pretty evenly, except in the case of pensioners (a fact which, one would assume, impacts on the higher income figures), especially having regard to the element of social transfers. The extent to which the last can be maintained is a function of how the economy is managed in the future. There is legitimate reason for concern on that point.

I have noticed that breast feeding is far more common in warm climate countries than in moderate to cold climate countries. I attribute that to the cost of milk and the quality of milk. Lack of refrigeration and fuel to heat (sterilise) milk. In the northern hemisphere there was an enormous amount of money poured into marketing baby formula as a superior alternative. Add mothers of infants going out to work in large numbers. Or as my mother used to say equality my ass they are forced to neglect their babies because the gov’t refuses to support them and it now takes two incomes to afford a house..

Averting Crisis is an excellent synopsis of reality. I love the parallels between the abandoned housing market cooling measures and this weeks abandonment of 20% deposits. Our DoF does not come out smelling of roses, as I said before, forgive them for they have to bow to their political masters. The Central Bank and Regulator benefit from being omitted.

The ESRI paper.

The only comment that I have seen that goes to the heart of the matter is by Richard Curran in the Indo. (The title is misleading. The article is not principally about public sector pay).

As he points out; “Even questioning how relatively small the tax contribution of the lower paid might be, is not only politically off-limits but almost toxic. Other studies show how higher Vat and cutbacks to public spending have impacted the poorest in society a lot more anyway.”

The arrival of water charges has demonstrated that the question can no longer be avoided not in the sense of comparisons between overall levels of taxes (it being well know that indirect taxes take a larger share of lower incomes) but in terms of whether the most appropriate way for making allowance for social justice considerations is to effectively have one set of taxpayers making a transfer to others in the form of free access to unlimited supplies of treated water.

A majority of households have already arrived at the obvious answer.

Elia is completely right on breastfeeding. I managed it because I had a mother who had fed us and knew how to be supportive. Otherwise I’d have no break from the “sometimes they don’t get enough” brigade and “if she wasn’t feeding herself I could help and feed the baby” (Well why don’t you help by feeding ME instead eh?).

Ultimately it’s a class issue. But even those middle class mothers who try are often undone because they crumble to the social pressure to be up and about with their make up on receiving visitors within days of giving birth. The traditional period of confinement should be restored and the visitors told to feck off and just leave food and fresh laundry at the door instead of polyester novelty outfits and demands for attention.

I stayed in bed and received in my boudoir and didn’t offer tea. I heartily recommend the strategy to new mothers. The visitors are there to serve you, not visa versa.

btw interesting fact: SMA and Aptamil are EXACTLY the same formula made by the same company. No difference AT ALL. But they market them differently. SMA is the working class milk and Aptamil middle class (for which they naturally charge more). In marketing terms Aptamil mothers are more demanding and need more guff about the ingredients and supposed naturalness of the product.

Other interesting fact: Ireland supplies 15% of the world’s formula. They’d outsource it tomorrow to Poland if they could, but our grass and resulting milk is genuinely better. The Chinese approve apparently.

There are hundreds of studies that show a positive correlation between breastfeeding and some health (or other) outcome for the child. Whether this is a causal relationship or just due to a correlation with some other factor is much harder to tell. Mothers who breastfeed are observably quite different from those who don’t. It seems plausible that there are unobservable differences too. Randomized control studies are very rare unsurprisingly.
This recent study uses a sibling comparison design and finds that breastfeeding is generally not much better than bottle-feeding.


“Public sector pay rises are for life.” What complete and utter poppycock. They’re “for life” are they? Yes, indeed, down the memory hole go three rounds of public-sector pay cuts (and the continuing stealth pay cut that is the current freeze). They never happened.

And this goes “to the heart of the matter” in your view.

Yesterday I had to take my child to Temple Street Hospital, one of only two hospitals for children in Dublin. We waited around for hours and hours in an environment that can only be described as the result of extreme neglect. We saw a clearly understaffed medical team try to cope with far too many people than could be accommodated. But Richard Curran has gone to the heart of the matter in telling us that “there are lots of places where money can be gathered, from public sector reform…” None of you very comfortable people get it: the public sector has been raped. There is no other word for it. It has been stripped to the bone. And large parts of it are now dysfunctional. The people working in it (excluding the bloated management sector) have almost all been doing heroic work while experiencing not only round after round of pay cuts and workload increases but the universal opprobrium of those who are, generally, much better off. In education and the health sector, to the extent that either system is at all functional, they only function thanks to the goodwill of those on whom the abuse has been heaped. If they ever worked to rule, the entire thing would collapse in a day. Yet the public has been persuaded that none of them actually do any work, that they are all paid royally to sit around all day.

This is the neoliberal end-game. It goes like this:

1) Mount an endless propaganda campaign that insists the public sector–which, contrary to what the public believe, has NEVER been well funded in Ireland–does not deliver value for money and personalises the blame (so that it’s always the people working in the public sector that are to blame);

2) Cut the arse out the public sector by dropping tens of thousands of positions and destroying the moral of all those left through increased workloads and pay cuts;

3) When the service deteriorates (as it must in these circumstances), go back to step (1), being sure to pin the blame on those doing the work.

And the cycle continues, a death spiral the main victims of which are those who depend on public services.

Eventually, you have a public sector small enough, in the American Republican Grover Norquist’s words “to drown in a bathtub.” And who benefits? Who do you think? You think there’s no relation between the years-long drumbeat of lies about the public sector and the creation of Irish Water? Follow the money.

@ Ernie

What did I do to deserve your latest salvo? I am totally in favour of a universal health system delivered on the basis individual insurance premiums and governed by market mechanisms to ensure efficiency; the proposed policy which has now been abandoned. What we have instead is an inefficient two-tier public sector system run – effectively – by various trade union interests. funded, on an inequitable basis, and inadequate to meeting their demands, by general taxation. What did you expect?

Until you stop seeing the world divided – artificially – between the public and the private sector, there is little prospect of us arriving at any common ground.

@ Ernie

I forgot to repeat the point that the article by Richard Curran was not, actually, about public sector pay. However, public sector pay rises are for life, barring another crisis in the public finances.

Of course, they will impact the pension rights of serving public servants differently.

“In order to address the cost of future public service pensions, a new pension scheme has applied to all new recruits appointed since January 2013, replacing final salary defined benefit arrangements with a career averaging scheme that more realistically reflects earnings over a career in the public service.”

In short, we also now have a two-tier public service; with the acquiescence of the trade unions involved.

re: Whooping up the growth.

Thankfully there is some form of recovery. The question of to whose benefit is a different matter. There has been a modest (funny numbers excluded) increase in employment.
But do take a look at the chart in the SBP (article linked by DOCM) on average earnings per week Q2 2008-Q2 2014. It does not paint a pretty.

re: Sunday Business Post.
Some very worthwhile contributions. However, if Backroom continues his assault on the “welfare class”, who, according to him made up the vast majority of last Wednesday’s protest, then one might be obliged to take sides in his class war.

Kevin, have you seen this paper?

It uses the different levels of support/encouragement shown to mothers who are attempting to breastfeed on weekdays and weekends in London hospitals as an exogenous source of variation. Having your baby at the weekend leads to considerably less support. The paper was given in UCD last year and it seemed pretty credible to me. Positive effects are found for cognitive development but not for non-cognitive development or health.


I realise that your answer to absolutely every problem is “structural reform,” by which I take it you mean: cuts in pay and working conditions for public sector workers, with any unfair practices to be rectified by making them universal. I agree that we do have a two-tier public service and that this is deplorable. It should never have been the case that new hires came in with wildly different conditions.

Your solution to this is apparently and predictably to impose the new conditions on everyone rather than to hire new hires under the old conditions. Never mind the injustices of that (those on the verge of retirement suddenly seeing their pensions reduced? apparently no problem for you). Once again the answer is always a race to the bottom.

Here is the fact of the matter that one never reads in the press: Ireland’s public sector is not and has never been expensive. Indeed, it has never been adequately funded. Most of the complaints about the public sector one reads about in the press boil down to that one fact. Hospitals are as shambles? Fund them. Students aren’t learning? Maybe having 33 to a class (and spending hours every week learning a dead language and the wonders of Jesus, but that’s a different matter) wasn’t the best idea. University grads are incapable? Maybe you’ll want to re-think that hiring freeze that results in larger and larger numbers of students being taught by casual staff.

That the government is even considering tax cuts (in order to achieve the real primary aim of their governance: re-election) in this context is an affront to every person working their arse off in the public sector not to mention a slap in the face of everyone who depends on the public sector. But those people are poor and easily dismissed when, for example, they turn out en masse for a protest against water charges.

Re ESRI paper on Budget:

The ESRI model does not compare household incomes pre and post-Budget, as per the Department of Finance. Rather it assumes welfare payments and earnings change in line with the forecast change in average pay across the economy. Hence if pay is expected to rise, as in 2015, the model adjusts for this and so if welfare payments do not change those on welfare will be worse off.

@ Kevin Denny, David Madden

Although I am forgetting the author(s), I’m sure I read a paper that uses Caesarians to predict breastfeeding. I understand that some C-sections are required for random (in the statistical sense) reasons, and apparently it is much easier to breastfeed in the aftermath of a natural birth. Positive results on cognitive skills, if I recall correctly.

David, yes I know the paper.
Enda H: yes I know that paper too as Orla Doyle and I wrote it.

@ Enda H

“apparently it is much easier to breastfeed in the aftermath of a natural birth”

That’s because the baby and the mother are ready to go straight away. C-sections have to be sewn up and this takes time.
It also appears to be very important to wait a bit before cutting the umbilical cord. Loads of important stuff flows from the mother to the baby.

C-sections are economically rational but natural birth seems to have advantages that aren’t modellable.

“Enda H: yes I know that paper too as Orla Doyle and I wrote it.”

You couldn’t make it up. Apologies.

Mothers who have C-sections don’t breastfeed because holding the baby hurts their wound too much. Also, they’re put on special diets after, which seem to consist of virtually no food, so their poor aching bodies are less able to produce milk. In order to breastfeed your babies, you need to be free to do nothing else—ie, you need a mum or friends or husband who will assume all your other responsibilities. I was lucky in that my doctor was a mother who’d breastfed. She told me to regard it as a full-time job, to drink beer if I needed to bring on the milk, and to eat all around me. Women who breastfeed need help and commonsense advice, not lectures.

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