Tuesday 1 December 2009

2008 Annual Report of the Registrar General

The 2008 Annual Report of the Registrar General was published yesterday by NISRA. As usual, it is a valuable compendium of statistics on the demographic situation of Northern Ireland.

As far as the community balance is concerned, the report offers relatively little. Only in two areas can a hint be extracted as to the likely direction of Northern Ireland's ethno-political future.

On the religious breakdown of marriages, the previously observed pattern remains visible. The proportion of marriages celebrated in 'Protestant and other' churches continues to decline, while the proportion of marriages celebrated in Catholic churches remains stable. The Catholic proportion, which overtook the Protestant proportion about 10 years ago, is clearly widening its lead:

As previously noted in this blog the large number of civil marriages makes any firm conclusions difficult. But as an indicator of trends, the graph above tends to show that the proportion of marriage-age young people (around 30 years of age) that is Catholic is greater than the proportion that is Protestant, and that gap is widening. Many of the civil ceremonies are to older – often divorced – people, and are thus less likely to lead to children. Hence the proportion of marriages celebrated in the two main religious groups may well indicate the proportion of births attributable to these groups in the years following the marriages.

The second hint that can be extracted is related to those births. There are 13 local government districts whose birth rate exceeds or equals the average. Several of those are in the Greater Belfast commuter area, and thus are areas in which young families (of both religions) tend to set up home: Lisburn, Antrim, Newtownabbey, Banbridge, Craigavon. But all of the other 'above average' districts are Catholic-majority districts: Cookstown, Magherafelt, Dungannon, Newry and Mourne, Derry, Strabane – or are areas in which Catholics form a majority amongst the child-bearing cohort (ages 20-40): Armagh (where at all ages below 36 (in 2009) Catholics outnumber Protestants), and Belfast (where Catholics outnumber Protestants at almost all ages in the child-bearing cohort). The conclusion that can be drawn from these figures is that Catholics are still having more children than Protestants.

The areas that are largely Protestant – Ards, Larne, Carrickfergus, North Down, Castlereagh, Coleraine, Ballymena – have birth rates below the average.

On deaths, the areas with death rates above the average are all majority-Protestant, with the exception of little Moyle. Belfast has an above-average death rate, but its old people are largely Protestant (unlike its young - see above). The inescapable conclusion is that deaths are disproportionately Protestant.

Put the two effects together: more Catholic births, more Protestant deaths – and the picture becomes clearer. Over time, there are proportionately more Catholics – and thus, in all likelihood, more nationalists – and fewer Protestants, and thus fewer unionists.


bangordub said...

Your graph on the percentages of marriages by denomination is interesting but if taken together with the wider demographic information available, I would argue that a large percentage of civil marriages must include nationalist voters.(In fairness you aknowledge this)
Also, you link the marriages directly the likely birth rates in the future.
As the link below shows that is an increasingly tenuous position.


No easy answers !
But good post anyway
Keep up the good work

Horseman said...


I agree - the stats get more and more difficult to interpret as time passes. Firstly the base data (from the 2001 census) is getting very long in the tooth, and migration will have made a lot of it inaccurate. Secondly, the civil marriages cannot be decyphered easily. A lot of them include at least one Catholic, but many others are older divorcees (or either, both, or no religion), or younger post-christians. Only when they start having kids will it become a bit clearer - but even then we'll have the problem of the 'none/not recorded' in the schools census.

And if parents aren't even married - 57% in Belfast - how can we ever find out who they are?

Ultimately, only elections really count, and I'm really getting itchy with anticipation - its been over two years since the last Assembly election (the EP was fun, but not entirely representative due to low turnout). The next 18 months (and 3 elections) will bring a wealth of data and trends to look at. When the dust settles after them we may have some new realities to consider.

Anonymous said...

Roy Foster has written that the Republic quietly became a protestant society over the last 30 years. It seemed a bit of an exaggeration at first, but indeed, the more one thought about, the more there was to it. Now, after the latest scandals involving clerical abuse of children, this thesis will be further vindicated.

A very visible further separation of church and state (the ROI has no established church, unlike the UK, no bishops in the upper house and no religious bigotry enshrined in law as regards the religion of the head of state) can surely only be good for reconciliation on the island as a whole.

A small silver lining perhaps.

Watcher said...

Apparently 60% of The Republic's citizens still attend mass and I doubt they are doing it for the organ music. Perhaps Horseman can tell us when he expects church attendance in The Republic to approach UK/European levels? Any demographics or graphs available?

Watcher said...

Shouldn't all these marriage, birth and death figures be based upon Nationalist/Unionist not Catholic/Protestant figures, given how many Catholics now oppose Irish Unity?

bangordub said...

In my experience I havent met a single catholic who is pro union (With Britain), On the other hand I have numerous protestant friends who, recognising the inevatibility of reunification, are both positive and enthusiastic about the real union.
But then of course, I only live here, what would I know?

Anonymous said...

Let Watcher believe the nonsense that there are thousands of Nationalist who vote for Nationalist/Republican parties but are secretly pro-union. It helps him sleep at night. I'm from the North and never met one myself, they all must live under ground or somewhere.


Watcher said...

Wiz - what a giggle you are! A true Irishman (LOL).

There are plenty of Catholics who don't vote, who oppose Irish Unity, and would do so at any border poll.

Why don't you search the net thicko, there's plenty of opinion poll data there, that even a thick mick could interpret.

bangordub said...

OK "Watcher"
Please reference?

Watcher said...

Google usually works Mr Immigrant...

Anonymous said...

And everything on Google is obviously true.

Show us a link!

Get a life or better still open your mind, Andy.

MPG .....

Unknown said...

i live in the north, and of course watchers talking through is teeth, he's good craic though.

Anonymous said...

Pathetic to see some unionist commentators resorting to racist abuse.

No doubt they're celebrating wildly as they see the ball in the back of the net. Of course, what they fail to see is that they have just scored yet another own goal.

Nationalism wins - again - without even breaking sweat.

- Munsterman

Watcher said...

Nationalism's lost mate. Or are you the only one who hasn't noticed?

Nordie Northsider said...

Why does anyone respond to Andy, our resident cyber-nutter? Ignore him and he might just go away.

Watcher said...

FAO Nordie Northsider:

No "Unionist Outreach" then mate? LOL

Anonymous said...

The problem as I see it is that the message here is that Unionists will eventually join Ireland not because it is better then being in Britain or because they will be better treated then in Britain but simply because the Catholic community has 'outbred' them (sorry for the crudeness). Is this reconciliation?

Horseman said...

Anonymous (03 December 2009 07:12),

In essence, you are right. And it is not a good thing. I think the overwhelming majority of nationalists would prefer unionists to join a UI out of preference - but they will not (after all, they are 'unionists'). I think the evidence shows clearly enough that they would have as good, or better, a deal in a UI than in a UK, but they are motivated by emotion rather than economics (as indeed are nationalists, btw). Hence the necessity to fall back on simple 'outbreeding' - which is, of course, just another form of democracy, isn't it?

Reconcilation would be nice, but it takes two to tango. And the -dancefloor seems quite empty at present!

Anonymous said...

Unionists aren't interested in a United Ireland and simply won't be joining one. End of.

Anonymous said...

Then where will they go? Will they leave Ireland and go and live in England? They would probably be happier there anyway, wouldn't they?