Social housing and the spread of population: Evidence from twentieth century Ireland

Abstract: How does housing policy influence the long-run distribution of population? We examine the impact on long-term population dynamics of the world’s first large-scale rural public housing scheme, specifically the case of Ireland’s Labourers Acts. We link detailed data on the location of over 45,000 heavily subsidized cottages for agricultural laborers built 1883–1915 in over 200 districts to decennial Censuses between 1841 and 2002. We examine how the density of this social housing affected subsequent population change and find significant persistence in the effect of this treatment on the population. These findings are from specifications that include other factors plausibly related to future population growth, including initial housing stock, land values and population density, as well as distance to urban centres. A causal interpretation is supported by an assessment of pre-trends, by no effect of cottages authorized but not built and by an IV approach that exploits a 1906 limit on legal costs. We also highlight the role of agglomeration in amplifying the impact of the initial investment. Mediation analysis suggests that schooling was a key factor, with districts receiving more cottages less likely to lose primary schools, thus further influencing population growth.

Keywords: Ireland; Labourers acts; Population growth; Social housing; Migration

JEL classification: N34; N94; O18; R23; R38

Cite this article: Alan de Bromhead, Ronan C. Lyons, ‘Social housing and the spread of population: Evidence from twentieth century Ireland’, Journal of Urban Economics, Volume 138, 2023, 103603, ISSN 0094-1190