Why the French are so fertileThe woman responsible for French family policy explains why her country has the second highest birth rate in the EU behind Ireland.
What explains France’s relatively high birth rate?
We have a family policy which makes an important consensus in French society but also among all political parties. It is a reality since the 1950’s. It considers every child with a system of allowances for his family. But it doesn’t explain everything.
We also have a high female employment rate, which demonstrates the fact that French women can work and have children concomitantly. They don’t have to stop their career to raise their children. It's something that comes to us from the 1970s and which is important to explain the preservation of a healthy birth rate.
What specific government policies have affected France’s demographic profile?
At first, family policy was based in essence on financial allowances, and the more children you had, the more important financial help became.
Today, family policy walks on two legs: we provide both financial assistance and new services simultaneously, in particular developing nurseries, new childcare for very young children, and support for parents. We are developing services to help parents who may face difficulties with their children's education.
I think it is this conjunction of financial allowances and services which makes family policy a successful incentive to reconciling work and having children.
The role of companies is twofold: firstly, companies fund part of government family policy through employer contributions.
And today we are trying, although we're still in the early stages, to make sure that businesses work towards a better reconciliation between working life and family life.
It will take time, but we encourage firms to develop company day-nurseries, to facilitate childminding for their employees, and to develop telecommuting to allow a balance between work and family life.
What cultural attitudes to career and family affect birth rates in France?
I think there is really a search for balance between work and family life. There is a very high demand for this from women but we also see the emergence of a similar demand from fathers.
Companies nowadays are facing what we call ‘suffering at work’ sometimes resulting in suicides within businesses, and certain companies are becoming more aware that an employee who is able to accommodate a good family life is an employee who will be all the happier and productive in a professional context.
There is still a lot of inequality between men and women. The point is to adapt the pace of work. A senior executive, in France, must work very late. Yet it has been demonstrated that it is not required to have meetings at 8pm or 10pm to be effective. But that’s how women are disadvantaged.
We're going to try and do two things.
We notice today that family policy is not sufficiently redistributive. We see increasing poverty in many families. Our system must be rethought, maybe by giving the richest slightly less in order to better help the poorest. We are dealing with changing family models with a diversity of families, with more single-parent families.
On a second axis, we considered the development of childcare for young children, with the idea of pre-schooling the 2-3 year olds. In France, children go to school really early.
We also want to work to correct regional inequalities. We have parts of the country with a childcare admission rate close to 8%, and other parts with a rate of 80%. There are departments where 8 out of 10 children go to day nursery, elsewhere the ratio is 8 out of 100.