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There are concerns that the unprecedented economic boom which Ireland experienced in the second half of the 1990s has raised only some living standards and has widened income gaps. This paper analyzes Ireland's income distribution in comparative perspective, to understand how Ireland's distribution changed and how it compares to other rich countries. We begin with OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS) data to compare Ireland's degree of well-being and inequality with other advanced countries. We also look in some detail at alternative sources of Irish income and their implications for the trends in income inequality in Ireland from 1994 to 2000. For instance, we examine the top of the distribution using data from the administration of the income tax system. We conclude that the spectacular economic growth in the past decade has seen the gap in average income between Ireland and the richer OECD countries narrow dramatically. However, this growth has not greatly affected the Irish ranking in terms of income inequality. Ireland remains an outlier among rich European nations in its high degree of income inequality, though still falling well short of the level seen in the United States. In the end, we find that Ireland's new-found prosperity provides a “social dividend,” and choices about how it is used will fundamentally affect whether the current high level of income inequality persists into the future.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin

Publication date: December 1, 2005

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