Published: February 21, 2020

Unpacking the puzzle of why Irish families stuck together in the face of the huge economic shock of the country’s deep recession of 2008-2011 is a key research question for Life Course Centre Visitor Dr Carmel Hannan.

A lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Ireland’s University of Limerick, Dr Hannan is currently visiting the Life Course Centre at the Institute for Social Science Research at The University of Queensland. She will also be visiting the Centre’s node at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne.

Dr Hannan presented a Life Course Centre-ISSR seminar and is engaging with our researchers and students, hosting a workshop, and providing research advice, insights and mentoring. Her research focusses on family stratification issues, particularly as they relate to class dynamics, including the effects of family structure on child and family well-being over the life course. This provides strong synergies with the Life Course Centre’s research focus on investigating deep and persistent disadvantage across families and generations.

In her seminar, Dr Hannan provided an overview of her current research with Professor Ross MacMillan on the impact of the 2008-2011 recession on families in the Republic of Ireland. This study compares the experience of Irish families during the recession with those in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. Specifically, it seeks to examine why Irish families stuck together, when such an economic shock typically results in an increase in family dissolutions – as was the case in the other countries in the comparative analysis.

The study followed families through longitudinal data from the Growing Up In Ireland child cohort, and comparable data from the UK Millennium child cohort. The timing of the data collection coincided with the recession, providing a unique window into the relationship between economic shock and family dissolution. The study showed that, compared to families in the other countries, Irish families had a much lower rate of family dissolution despite the sharp declines in family incomes experienced during the recession.

“While the recession was most severe in Ireland, Irish families were largely immune from the negative consequences of income loss,” Dr Hannan said. “So what is it about the Irish context that made families resilient?” This ‘Irish exceptionalism’ was likely the result of a number of interrelated factors requiring deeper investigation.

Irish men were hardest hit by income loss, although many women returned to work to help stabilise household incomes. Irish families benefitted from higher levels of home ownership and managed to maintain their mortgages through the recession, entrenching the family home as ‘the glue’ binding Irish families together. Other cultural and religious factors that could also have been at play include an underlying Catholic ethos of ‘sticking together’ and an accumulation of ideology, habits and rituals passed between generations that influence how the Irish ‘do’ families.

Pictured (from left): Life Course Centre Director Professor Janeen Baxter with Dr Carmel Hannan of the University of Limerick.