Education key to improving employment and living circumstances of Travellers

A new report published by the ESRI today (17 January 2017) finds that education is key to improving the employment and living circumstances of Travellers. The authors of A Social Portrait of Travellers in Ireland draw on the full 2011 Census of Population to explore whether certain groups of Travellers (in terms of gender, age and region) experience particularly high levels of disadvantage in four areas: education, employment, housing and health. According to Census 2011, the Traveller population consists of just under 30,000 individuals or 0.6 per cent of the population in Ireland.


  • Travellers are more likely to have left school early and are much less likely to have reached Leaving Certificate level: only 8% of working-age Travellers compared to 73% of non-Travellers.
  • Levels of education have been increasing over time for both Travellers and non-Travellers. However, the improvement over time was not as great for Travellers.  While the majority of non-Travellers aged 25-34 have completed second level education (86 per cent), fewer than one in ten Travellers in this age group have done so (9 per cent).  This suggests that Travellers benefited less from the general improvement in education since the 1960s.


  • The lower employment rate of Travellers aged 25-64 compared to non-Travellers (11% versus 66%) was mainly driven by their higher rate of unemployment (82% vs. 17%) rather than by a lower rate of labour market participation.
  • Differences in education are very important in accounting for the employment gap between Travellers and non-Travellers. The employment rate of non-Travellers is about six times higher than that of Travellers. Where the two groups had similar levels of education and other characteristics, the gap remains but is very much reduced (from 6 times to 1.9 times higher).
  • The chance of being in a job improves markedly as level of education increases for Travellers. Comparing Travellers who are similar to non-Travellers in other respects (such as gender, age group and region), the Traveller employment rate is  just 9% among those with primary level education, 15% for those with lower second level education (Junior Certificate), 27% for those with Leaving Certificate and 57% for the very small number with further or higher education.


  • The analysis indicated that most Travellers lived in standard housing (88 per cent) while just 12% of Travellers lived in a caravan or mobile home in 2011. Although associated with their traditionally nomadic way of life, this type of accommodation is likely to be overcrowded (84%). It is more likely than a house or apartment to lack central heating (13%), piped water (18%) and sewerage facilities (29%). It is also likely to lack internet access (91%).


  • In common with many other studies, the research confirmed the greater rate of poor health among Travellers, with 29% reporting fair, bad or very bad health compared to 8% of non-Travellers in the 35 to 54 age group.
  • The report found that there is a steeper increase with age in self-reported poor health for Travellers than for non-Travellers. There is a very little difference in the adjusted rate of poor health between Travellers and non-Travellers under age 15 (about 3% versus about 1%). In the 55–64 age group, the gap is 28 percentage points (50% of Travellers versus 22% of non-Travellers). This pattern of an increasing gap with age suggests that poor health among Travellers is a problem that cumulates or worsens across the life course.

The report will be launched by David Stanton, Minister of State for Justice at the Department of Justice and Equality with special responsibility for Equality, Immigration, and Integration, who commented: "This report is particularly timely given that we are currently finalising the new Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy.  It draws attention in unequivocal terms to the poor outcomes and conditions in terms of education, health, employment and accommodation that Travellers face.  We need a sustained effort in partnership between all relevant Departments and agencies and the Traveller community to ensure that these failures are addressed and that Travellers can enjoy the same quality of life as others in our society".

Dorothy Watson, an author of the report, said “The results highlighted the significance of education — both the extent of the educational disadvantage of Travellers and the importance of education in enabling them to move out of unemployment and poverty.”