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Old Posted Feb 1, 2009, 7:15 PM
New Brisavoine New Brisavoine is offline
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Here's an article published yesterday by the Paris Correspondent for The Times:

France leads the baby race

By Charles Bremner,
Paris Correspondent for The Times
January 13, 2009

Here's another reason for France to cheer up. The country is enjoying its biggest baby boom for three decades.

In 2008, 800,000 babies were born in continental France, a figure not achieved since 1981, according to figures today from the National Statistical Institute. The fertility rate rose in 2008 from 1.97 to 2.02 children per woman, consolidating France's lead over the rest of Europe.

The Europeans have lately produced on average 1.5 children per woman. The EU's 2008 figures are not out yet, but Ireland was second behind France in 2007 and Slovakia was bottom at 1.25.

The rising birth figures are testimony to the success of France's long-standing effort, following long population decline, to encourage people to have children. I don't need to run through all the generous (expensive) state-provided child care benefits, the free nursery schools, travel subsidiess and the family allowances than can reach 500 euros a month.

The return to work last week of Rachida Dati, the Justice Minister, five days after giving birth, was an exception to the tradition of long, paid maternity leave. One of Dati's Cabinet colleagues has just suggested making the 16 weeks' paid leave compulsory for all working women.

If recent trends continue, France will overtake Germany as Europe's most populous nation around the middle of this century. The new year began with 64.3 million inhabitants [that's the population of Metropolitan and the four oveseas departments, excluding the seven overseas collectivities], 366,500 more than in 2008. Germany has 82.4 million but has long suffered from a low fertility rate of below 1.4. Russia, with its big demographic problem, managed to get back to that level in 2007 from 1.2 in 2000. The United Kingdom, with a population of just under 61 million, has been doing better lately with a 1.85 fertility rate and it could also overtake Germany.

France is approaching the fertility of the United States, which, with its influx of young immigrants, is usually held up as the model for ageing Europe. The expected US rate for 2008 is 2.1. The very healthy French birth rate is certainly helped by the fairly large and young part of the population of recent immigrant origin -- as in Britain and Germany. Public discussion of the role of immigrants in the population growth is still largely taboo in France, though this is changing.

The French figures are impressive because the population is ageing faster than that of the USA and other regions outside Europe. The number of women of child-bearing age -- mainly born in the 1970s and 80s -- has been shrinking by two percent a year for the past two years. The average age of motherhood has now risen to nearly 30. Another big change from the old days is that 52 percent of children were born to unmarried parents. The figure was only six percent in 1970.

That's a big load of statistics, but they tell a story. The good population news is an example of the intelligent long-term policies in which France has excelled in recent decades. It was echoed, in the economic domain this week in a Newsweek magazine column headlined: The Last Model Standing is France.
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