Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The gross Domestic product (GDP) of Northern Ireland in 1986 was estimated at 6.1 billion pounds, making up 1.9 percent of that of the U.K. as a whole. The provision of public services generated a high proportion (35 percent) of this, as compared with a national average of 23 percent. GDP per head was 3,889 pounds, the lowest in the U.K. The average gross weekly earning for males was 199 pounds, the lowest in the U.K., while that of females was similar to that of most other regions.
Between 1979 and 1987, Northern Ireland had the highest unemployment rate in the U.K., with 35 percent of the Catholic and 17 percent of the Protestant male work force being unemployed. Figures for women were 15 percent and 11 percent, respectively. Social security benefits accounted for about one-fifth of average household income in 1985-1986, a higher proportion than elsewhere in the U.K. estimated government expenditure on supplementary benefits was 199 pounds per head, compared with an average of 138 pounds per head elsewhere.
While Northern Ireland clearly is a depressed region within the national economy, the eastern part of the province is more developed than the western, which apart from forestry and tourism is undeveloped. Industrialization around Belfast, migration from the western counties in the nineteenth Century due to famine, and the centralization of the economies of London and Dublin in the twentieth century led to markedly uneven regional development. Economic decline has been attributed to structural weaknesses in response to world market changes. An economy narrowly based on marine engineering, shipbuilding, and textiles (linen) employed 55 percent of the manufacturing workforce in 1949 and only 21 percent in 1986. Agriculture suffered a similar contraction from 22 percent of the total labor force in 1949 to less than 4 percent in 1986.
Industrial Arts. Manufacturing industries include engineering and allied trades; tobacco, food, and drink; textiles; and clothing. These employ 21 percent of the population. Agriculture, forestry, and fishing employ 4 percent. Agricultural holdings are small, with only 5.6 percent made up of 50 or more hectares. Dairy products, oats, potatoes, poultry, and eggs were produced on small family farms in 1949. In Response to changing demand, the economy has shifted from oats and potatoes to pigs, barley, and cattle. Between 1965 and 1985, mixed farming gave way to the growth, conservation, and utilization of grass. Cattle and milk production account for 34 and 28 percent, respectively, of the total gross output. Cattle number around 1.5 million. Store cattle are imported from the Republic of Ireland for fattening.
Legislation within the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1980 aimed at constructing a common agricultural policy brought changes to the Northern Irish economy. The number of sheep rose to around 1.3 million, but a decline in the number of pigs and poultry followed cereal-price changes. Investment in modernization, including contraction in the number of holdings, led to increased production but a smaller work force. Agricultural gross output rose from 496 million pounds in 1978 to 775.5 million pounds in 1987. State Forests occupy 5 percent of the total land area.
The declining economy is attributed to the province's distance from its markets and sources of raw materials. Transportation costs are high. Cross-border schemes between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and European Community plans hold promise for development in the west. Political unrest deters overseas investment.
Trade. About 74 percent of imports and 82 percent of exports involve trade with the rest of the U.K. Trade with the Republic represents about 12 percent of the total.
Division of Labor. Farm labor is divided along age and gender lines, with women and the elderly performing house and farmyard tasks and men and boys working in the fields. Cattle marketing is an exclusively male occupation. Hill farmers cooperate, with neighbors "swapping" labor, but more mechanized lowland farmers do not. In the nonfarming sector of the economy, young women tend to form the lower ranks in offices, businesses, and the professions, and young men tend to be more upwardly mobile.
Land Tenure. Of a total land area of some 1.3 million hectares, about 1.1 million is used for agriculture under an almost universal system of owner occupation. Superimposed on this system is the widespread practice of conacre , or seasonal letting of land. This discourages the purchase and amalgamation of land, which modern agriculture requires.