Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Making Babies for France

The International Herald Tribune features this piece of commentary about the number of women in France having three or more children.

It began in the 1970s, in a typical French government technocratic concern for developing the service sector, for which women seemed a prime labor source. Therefore free, full-time municipal creches, or nurseries for the very young, were expanded. Free public pre kindergartens and canteens were vastly increased in number, as well as subsidized vacation camps during school holidays. Competition for places in these institutions remains high, and is increasingly subject to means tests, but this has simply pushed the development of cooperative creches organized by better-off families.
This had an important psychological as well as practical effect, legitimating the decision of young mothers to go back to work. There are also state financial incentives - family allowances, support for the volunteer creches formed by groups of mothers, and family tax benefits, many of which increase significantly with a third child.
The result is that more than in any other European country, French families now have three or more children. Germany and Switzerland also give generous family benefits, and in Sweden 77 percent of the children under 6 are in creches, but birth rates stay well under that in France.

There are to my mind a couple key pieces of information missing here. The big things I'd be curious to know are:
  • What percentages of French women have 0, 1, 2, 3, 4+ childen?
  • What percentage of women with three or more children work, vs. the overall percentage.
  • What are the relative total fertility rates for Moslem vs. non-Moslem women?
If it's taken as a given that 80+% of women will be working full time, it makes sense that a massive effort to provide 'free' (compare French tax rates to US taxes) childcare would help keep fertility fplummetingting. However, the more children you have the more difficult the school/daycare model becomesmaintaintian, so it makes sense that the majority of women taking advantage of the creche system would have only 1-2 children, with a small percentage (I'd guess under 20%) having three or more.

Unfortunately, there are no good statistics on how the immigrant Moslem population ties in to all this, because French law bans the collection of religious or ethnic information by their census. For some best guess figures, see the following:

The overall French TFR is 1.85; however, the TFR of French Muslims is approximately 3 to 4 (the French government does not collect official statistics on religion) while the non-Muslim TFR is only 1.4. Thus, while Muslims make up only 7% of the French population, they constitute 25-30% of the population under 25. Clearly, unless major changes occur (if it is not already too late), France is facing major cultural changes in the next 50 years, especially because the mainstream French culture has generally left its Muslim immigrants underrepresented and unassimilated. (The above figures are drawn from the CIA 2003 World Fact Book and from this article originally printed in the New York Sun: )


mrsdarwin said...

One wonders if perhaps the French unemployment rate would fall below 10% if more women chose to stay at home with their children.

Source for unemployment figure: (

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff. Another interesting tidbit I learned is about S. Korea. The gov't pays families to have more than one child nowadays. My in-laws could have benifitted from that system. :-)

Darwin said...

Hmmm. Though, I suppose now that you can get more back in per child income tax credits, if you make little enough and have enough kids, the government will indeed pay you. It just doesn't seem like much at that point...

Yves said...

I'm very skeptic of the statistics from your last paragraph. They seem to come from a highly polemical site with a strong pro-Israeli anti-Islamic bias. The figure of an overall TFR of 1.85 for France is reasonable but the 1.4 figure for "non-Muslims" (!), only cited as "said to be" in the New York Sun article, is unfounded. Moreover, while ethnic and religious statistics are illegal (or at least unofficial) in France, statistics based on nationality of foreign residents, parents nationality of French nationals, place of birth, of residence, etc..., are widely collected by the French demographics institute (INED, see website in order to provide accurate figures. AFAIK most of the ~2 children/women in France still come from "catholiques non-pratiquants",and half of them are now born outside (official) marriage.