The Great Recession and the changing distribution of economic vulnerability by social class: The Irish case

Christopher T Whelan, Bertrand Maitre

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    21 Citations (Scopus)


    Ireland provides an interesting case study of the distributional consequences of the Great Recession. To explore such effects we develop a measure of economic vulnerability based on a multidimensional risk profile for income poverty, material deprivation and economic stress. In the context of conflicting expectations of trends in social class differentials, we provide a comparison of pre and post-recession periods. Our analysis reveals a doubling of levels of economic vulnerability and a significant change in multidimensional profiles. Income poverty became less closely associated with material deprivation and economic stress and the degree of polarization between vulnerable and non-vulnerable classes was significantly reduced. Economic vulnerability is highly stratified by social class for both pre and post-recession periods. Focusing on absolute change, the main contrast is between the salariat and the non-agricultural self-employed and the remaining classes; providing some support for notions of polarization. In terms of relative change the higher salariat, the non-agricultural self-employed, the semi-unskilled manual and those who never worked gained relative to the remaining classes. This provides support the notion of ‘middle class squeeze’. The changing relationship between social class and household work intensity reflected a similar pattern. The impact of the latter on economic vulnerability declined sharply, while it came to play an increasing role in mediating the impact of membership of the non-agricultural middle classes. Responding to the political pressures likely to be associated with ‘middle class squeeze’ while sustaining the social welfare arrangements that have traditionally protected the economically vulnerable presents formidable challenges in terms of maintaining social cohesion and political legitimacy.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)470-485
    Number of pages16
    JournalJournal Of European Social Policy
    Issue number5
    Early online date12 Sept 2014
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


    • Great recession, economic vulnerability, social class, middle class squeeze, household work intensity


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