What have a night-club dancer and an economist got in common? – CSO data and average earnings

Posted on December 12, 2013 by Rory O'Farrell

The timeliest source of data on wages for PAYE workers in the Republic of Ireland comes from the “Earnings Hours and Employment Costs Survey” (EHECS). This is a very extensive survey and survey responses cover roughly 70% of employees. In comparison, surveys such as the National Employment Survey or Quarterly National Household Survey usually cover less than 5% of the population.

However there is a trade-off between breadth and depth. The survey is firm based, and it is possible to get a good breakdown on some firm characteristics (and this may be extended further by the CSO matching this survey with other surveys). However, employees are broken down into only three broad occupation groups, “Managers, professionals and associated professionals”, “Clerical, sales and service employees”, and “Production, transport, craft and other manual workers”.

This limits the usefulness of EHECS for showing wage rates for a specific job. For example, the average (mean) wage for “Clerical, sales and service employees” in the “accommodation and food sector” is €11.46. However this broad group includes chefs, waiting staff, and bartenders, amongst others. The CSO provides a list of over 5,000 occupations (available here) and which category they fall into.

The top paying occupational category (“Managers, professionals and associated professionals”) includes accountants, solicitors, and company chief executives; but also acrobats, clowns, “night club dancers” and economists. (Economists do not share the same classification as astrologers though, who are classified as “Clerical, sales and service employees”.)

Also, the EHECS survey shows the ‘mean’ wage. For example, if there was one chef paid €18 per hour and four waiting staff paid €9 per hour then the mean wage would be €10.80. However, often the ‘median’ wage is more useful. This is the wage of the person in the ‘middle’ so in this example it would be €9 per hour. The median is not sensitive to extremes in the distribution of pay, but the mean is.

Although there are limitations, EHECS is still a very valuable resource, particularly as it tracks firms over time (which for economic analysis can be hugely important). Any survey should be viewed as a tool to do a job, and EHECS can be used alongside other surveys such as the National Employment Survey to answer different questions. The National Employment Survey gives a more detailed occupational breakdown (whereby economists are included alongside “other professionals” and night-club dancers are in a separate category of “other associate professionals”; though waiting staff and chefs share the category of “Personal and protective services workers”). Unfortunately, the National Employment Survey which was done annually up to 2009 has now been reduced to every four years.

Posted in: IncomeJobsLabour costs

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