Irish-Americans Still Do Irish-American Jobs

Assimilation happens in complicated ways.

Another Irish-American job: congressman.

Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The great wave of Irish immigration to the U.S. subsided more than a century ago. The days of rampant anti-Irish prejudice are long behind us. Irish-Americans (of whom I am one, or at least 50 percent of one) are now seen as about as American as Americans can get.

But Irish-Americans do still have a unique job market profile:

This inspired exercise in St. Patrick's Day data sorting is the work of Jed Kolko, chief economist at Indeed, a jobs site. 1 It's funny because so many of the occupations match ethnic stereotypes: Irish cops, Irish firefighters, Irish lawyers, Irish reporters, Irish bartenders. "Every Ben Affleck film is actually a documentary," was one reaction on Twitter.

I can't help but find the list a little profound though, too. In these times of tension and debate over immigration, it's an indication that, while assimilation happens, it happens in complicated ways.

People reporting their ancestry as Irish accounted for about 7 percent of U.S. workers overall in the years Kolko looked at (2013 through 2015). I was curious what the least Irish occupations are. Kolko's answer:

The least Irish occupations are those that tend to be filled by immigrants and require less education, such as: 

  • graders and sorters of agricultural products
  • sewing machine operators
  • personal appearance workers 2

In terms of broad sectors, Irish-Americans account for an especially low share of workers in agriculture, buildings/grounds maintenance and manufacturing. They have moved up the education and pay ladder, and left these fields behind. In construction, for example, first-generation Irish immigrants are overrepresented. But the much larger community of Americans of Irish descent is underrepresented.

These are all marks of an immigrant group that has successfully assimilated into the American mainstream. But even after more than a century, it hasn't melted into unrecognizable sameness. Some other fields where Irish-Americans are underrepresented, according to Kolko: "computer hardware engineers and software developers; economists and market researchers; and dentists and physicians." And yeah, there is no such thing as a stereotypical Irish dentist. (Is there?)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

  1. Regular readers will note that I use Kolko's data a lot. What can I say: he finds good numbers.

  2. What are "personal appearance workers"? Here's the list from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

    • Barbers
    • Hairdressers, Hairstylists, and Cosmetologists
    • Makeup Artists, Theatrical and Performance
    • Manicurists and Pedicurists
    • Shampooers
    • Skincare Specialists

To contact the author of this story:
Justin Fox at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Stacey Shick at

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