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?
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: http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=11909 )