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Multiple Disadvantage in Ireland - An equality Analysis of Census 2006


Press Release - 23 Mar 2012

Double Disadvantage? It depends ...

This report examines disadvantages faced by members of groups identified by the nine grounds covered by the Equality Acts. This comprehensive analysis was made possible by access to the full Census 2006 Research Micro-data File. For the first time in Ireland, we were able to examine in a single study the consequences of membership across all of these groups and across five different outcomes. Using the Census data, there are enough members of small groups such as Travellers, other ethnic minorities and religious minorities to compare their situations with other groups.

We examine five different outcomes: low levels of education, being outside the labour market, unemployment, lower manual social class and lack of access to a car. The focus is on adults of working age (25 to 64 years).

Some of the key findings of the report are:

  • Some groups experience disadvantage across all or most outcomes, even controlling for education e.g. Travellers, people with a disability.
  • Several groups are educationally advantaged, but this does not seem to translate into better outcomes in terms of labour market participation, unemployment, social class and living standard. This is true of women, who are less likely to have left school before completing second level, but are more likely to be outside the labour market. Other groups for whom we find a similar pattern include nationals of the 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004 (EU 10), nationals of non-European countries, people of African ethnicity and people in same-sex partnerships.
  • Some groups who are a minority in numerical terms are advantaged on most outcomes, e.g. those with no religious affiliation.
  • Are some people faced with 'double disadvantage'— someone who is a member of two groups, both of which have a higher risk of negative outcomes? We examined this with respect to gender and disability. Our analysis shows that 'double disadvantage' need not always be the outcome. For instance, both women and people with a disability have a higher risk of being outside the labour market. However, women with a physical disability have a lower risk of being outside the labour market than we would expect from adding the two risks together. In fact, men with a physical disability are more likely than women with a physical disability to be outside the labour market when we control for other characteristics.


In general, the results caution against broad generalisations and highlight the need to consider very precisely the arena where disadvantage emerges (in the educational system, labour market, family roles, migration and life cycle) and the way these may interact with each other and with public policy to result in different outcomes.

  • Educational disadvantage is important in accounting for later outcomes in terms of labour market and living standards.
  • Disadvantage can emerge in different arenas (education, labour market, living standards) for particular groups. For example, nationals of the EU 10 are more educated but more likely to be in low-skilled jobs.
  • The role of choice and constraint needs to be considered, particularly in terms of labour market participation of parents. To some extent, the decision to remain outside the labour market to care for children is a matter of choice, but this is a choice made within the constraints of affordability and access to alternative childcare arrangements.
  • Membership of two groups, both of whom experience higher levels of disadvantage, does not necessarily result in 'double disadvantage'. We need to consider how the processes involved may interact for each particular group.
  • The study points to the value of census data for studies of group disadvantage particularly where the groups are small in number; the number of indicators may be limited, but this is more than compensated by the large number of cases and the virtually complete population coverage.

Welcoming the report, Renee Dempsey CEO of the Equality Authority, said "This innovative analysis provides important new insights into the nature of inequality in Ireland and adds significantly to the evidence base for policy on equality and social inclusion."

Report author Dorothy Watson said “There were some unexpected findings that are particularly noteworthy. For instance, disadvantage can be particular to certain spheres – some groups do well in terms of education but not in terms of labour market, and vice versa. Also, being a member of two different disadvantaged groups does not always result in the worst outcomes.”

Notes to Editors:

  1. The nine grounds on the basis of which discrimination is prohibited in the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2011 and the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2011 are gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race and membership of the Traveller community.
  2. The ten countries who acceded to the EU in 2004 (EU 10) are Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
  3. Multiple Disadvantage In Ireland: An Equality Analysis Of Census 2006, by Dorothy Watson, Pete Lunn, Emma Quinn and Helen Russell (ESRI), jointly published by the Equality Authority and the ESRI, will be published on the ESRI website and the Equality Authority websiteon Friday 23rd March.


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