Economic Stress and the Great Recession in Ireland: Polarization, Individualization or ‘Middle Class Squeeze’?

Christopher T. Whelan, Helen Russell, Bertrand Maitre

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    23 Citations (Scopus)


    Following an unprecedented boom, since 2008 Ireland has experienced a severe economic crisis. Considerable debate persists as to where the heaviest burden of the recession has fallen. Conventional measures of income poverty and inequality have a limited capacity to answer this question. Our analysis, which focuses on economic stress and the mediating role of material deprivation, provides no evidence for individualization or class polarization. Instead we find that while economic stress level are highly stratified in income class and social class terms in both boom and bust periods, the changing impact of class is contingent on life course stage. The affluent income class remained largely insulated from the experience of economic stress. However, it saw its relative advantage overthe income poor class decline at the earlier stage of the life-course. At the other end of the hierarchy, the income poor experienced a relative improvement in their situation in the early life course phases. The precarious income class experienced some improvement in its situation at the earlier life course stages while the outcomes for the middle classes remain unchanged. In the mid-life course stages the precarious and lower middle classes experienced disproportionate increase in their stress levels while at the later life-cycle stage it is the combined middle classes that lost out. Additional effects over time relating to social class are restricted to the deteriorating situation of the petit bourgeoisie at the middle stage of the life-course. The pattern is clearly a good deal more complex that suggested by conventional notions of ‘middle class squeeze’ and points to the distinctive challenges relating to welfare and taxation policy faced by governments in the Great Recession.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)503-526
    Number of pages24
    JournalSocial Indicators Research
    Issue number2
    Early online date14 Feb 2015
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016


    • Great Recession, economic stress, individualization, polarization, middle class squeeze


    Dive into the research topics of 'Economic Stress and the Great Recession in Ireland: Polarization, Individualization or ‘Middle Class Squeeze’?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this