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The Good Room

Why we ended up in debtor's prison- and how we can break free
David McWilliams
Penguin Ireland


The birthday lottery


One curious thing about Ireland is that the year you were born really matters to your prospects, arguably more than in any other European country. This is because the economy has been so badly mismanaged for so long, looted by one generation at the expense of the next.

Consider those born in the huge baby boom of the late 1970s, the

 Pope's Children. They were blindsided by the credit binge, mistaking a large overdraft for real prosperity. Many are now the wrong side of thirty — too old and with too many responsibilities just to head away, but far too young to throw in the towel.

They're trapped by the huge mortgages they're struggling to repay, and/or by the negative equity that makes it impossible for them to sell their property. Many have children and subscribe to the enduring Irish notion that, if at all possible, their children should be brought up here, at home.

There are hundreds of thousands of them. They were born in the  wrong time. They were teenagers in the 1990s, bought homes in the 2000s, and now find themselves in a debtors' prison.

Their Ireland is suburban, and it is also ridiculously fertile. In the  past five years, an average of 73,000 babies have been born each year -  the biggest baby boom since the foundation of the state, even bigger than the one that produced the Pope's Children. If you've been knocked off a footpath by an outsized buggy or amazed by the increase in class sizes in primary schools, it's because Ireland is react­ing to one of the deepest economic depressions in the history of any I country in Europe by having lots and lots of babies. Many of these newborns are the Pope's Children's children.

Ireland is yet again the great outlier in European demographics.