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ESRC Data Archive Bulletin:
Demographic Statistics in Northern Ireland
Text: Rona Campbell ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
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Demographic Statistics in Northern
The Queen's University of Belfast
There is no equivalent of the Offices of Population
Censuses and Surveys (OPCS) in Northern Ireland. Instead demographic
statistics are gathered by a variety of administrative bodies;
the General Register Office, the Census Office (both of which
are part of the DHSS); and the four Health and Social Services
Boards. Government surveys are undertaken by individual departments,
mainly under the auspices of the Policy, Planning and Research
Unit which is located in the Department of Finance and Personnel.
Partly because of this rather complex situation publication of,
and access to demographic data in Northern Ireland is underdeveloped.
The Census Office publishes a series of reports
containing basic tabulations. Copies of census data for 1971 and
1981 are not generally available although individual academics
have obtained data tapes. As the result of an organised protest
there was significant non-enumeration in the 1981 census eventually
estimated to involve some 44,500 individuals (General Register
Office, 1987). Census data obtained by researchers does not seem
to have been adjusted for this non-enumeration (for example Policy
Research Institute, 1990). Happily non-enumeration does not appear
to have been a problem in the most recent census.
The registration of live births, stillbirths
and deaths in Northern Ireland follows a broadly similar pattern
to that in England and Wales although there are some important
differences when it comes to registration of early infant deaths.
Furthermore, unlike the OPCS with its extensive FM, DH and VS
series of reports, the General Register Office (GRO) in Northern
Ireland publishes a very limited amount of information almost
all of which is contained in its annual reports. These tend not
to be very timely (the latest report available is for 1988) and
they have an archaic format with table titles containing such
politically incorrect terms as "illegitimacy" and "conjugal
conditions". Tabulations are also based on the date an event
was registered rather than the date on which it took place.
The limited way in which data are published
is compensated for by a great willingness on the part of the GRO
to respond positively to ad hoc queries and requests for data.
While this usually involves supplying tabulations or listings
individual researchers have also been able to obtain raw data.
As with the census, registration data are not generally available,
New stillbirth and neonatal death certificates
were introduced in England and Wales at the beginning of 1986.
Unlike standard death certificates which only allow for one underlying
cause, these documents permit both fetal and maternal
conditions thought to contribute equally to the death to be recorded.
Certificates permitting the recording of more than one cause of
death have not been introduced into Northern Ireland.
Since 1975 the OPCS has routinely linked the
death registration details of an infant dying with the first year
of life to birth registration particulars. Birth weight, which
is only collected at birth notification, has also been transferred
onto the birth registration form since 1975. This linkage has
enabled more detailed investigation into the social and biological
factors surrounding those infants who die. Such linking of registration
data does not take place in Northern Ireland, but a new computerised
Child Health System (CHS), based on birth notification, should
permit similar analyses when mechanisms for the transfer of pre-coded
cause of death details from stillbirth and death registrations
are in place. This system (which replaces the Child Health Record
Scheme) acts as a call and recall system for a variety of immunisations,
vaccinations and screening tests. In addition, a wealth of health
data are recorded at birth, throughout infancy and while the child
is at school. Each of the four area health boards in Northern
Ireland has its own identical CHS and at present there is no aggregate
file available for Northern Ireland as a whole. Recommendations
that this should be done have been accepted but there are no indications
yet as to what degree of access academic researchers will have
to this important new dataset (Campbell, 1991).
Other Sources of Data on Fertility
The Northern Ireland Fertility Survey was
undertaken in 1983. A clustered random sample of 3,000 women and
one in four of their partners were successfully interviewed,
which represented a response rate of 63%. A detailed analysis
of the results of this survey has been published (Compton and
Coward, 1989) but although negotiations are currently underway,
survey data are not yet available through the ESRC data archive.
The Continuous Household Survey (described
in detail elsewhere in this Bulletin) collects information on
family formation on an annual basis.
The 1967 Abortion Act was not extended to
Northern Ireland and so the majority of Northern Irish women wishing
to terminate their pregnancies travel to England to do so. Notifications
of abortions compiled by the OPCS provides the only source of
data on this, although numbers for Northern Ireland are probably
under recorded as women normally resident in Northern Ireland
may given addresses in England.
Migration and Population Projections
Estimates of external migration are compiled
by the DHSS from a variety of different sources and published
in the Northern Ireland Annual Abstract of Statistics. The Government
Actuaries Department produces Population Projections for Northern
Ireland based on data supplied by the DHSS. These projections
are published in Regional Trends.
None of the data sources mentioned in this
article are available through the ESRC Data Archive.
To gain access to demographic datasets for
Northern Ireland academics researchers have
to locate individuals within the public agency
concerned who have the authority to release data, and then negotiate
the format in which the data will be made available.
While the individuals concerned (who regularly move on to other
posts within their organisations) are usually helpful, the lack
of standardised documentation and limited experience in supplying
data for secondary analysis can make this a time consuming and
costly process. The development of a Data Archive facility for
Northern Ireland would be an important step
forward and of benefit to both the academic
research community and, because of the diminution in ad hoc requests,
the agencies who collect the data.
Campbell, R., (1991) Information
Collected on Stillbirths and Infant Deaths in Northern
Ireland, Report to the Department of Health and Social Services
(NI).Return to Contents
Compton, P.A. and Coward, J. (1989),Fertility
and Family Planning in Northern Ireland, Avebury.
General Register Office (1987), Annual Report of the Register
General for Northern Ireland HMSO, 1987.
Policy Research Institute (1990),Spatial
and Social Variations in the Distribution of Health Indicators
in Northern Ireland, Report to the Department of
Health and Social Services.