I thought that I’d share an interesting piece about France. In particular, why it has one of the highest birth rates in Europe.  The article is interesting because the answer for this high birth rate is, apparently, the extensive child care facilities and allowance paid for by the state that allow French women to have children and a career.  As the article in france24 states:

“In March of this year, France’s national demographic statistics agency INED said it had observed a ‘surprising’ trend. While birth rates had dropped noticeably across the board in Europe and North America following the financial crisis starting in 2008, fertility in France has remained stable.

On average, French women had 2.01 children in 2012, according to the most recent data. That means France now has a higher fertility rate than the United States, which traditionally has higher birth rates. As far back as 2000, France boasted higher birth rates than Germany and Britain. That remains true today, even as those economies appear to be recovering faster from the global recession.

According to INED’s Olivier Thévenon, an expert in populations and social programmes, France’s family welfare system goes a long way in explaining the trend. When studying long-term trends associated with high fertility, he said two important factors had been identified: welfare programmes that include the availability of long-term care for children under 3 years old and regular cash transfers to families with children.”

These state incentive schemes are relatively lavish – social programs in France aimed at families and children take up about 4% of GDP.  They include the option of putting public pre-school starting at 3 years old for children and direct cash transfers for households containing two or more children which are not means-tested.  These monthly stipends increase with the number of children that the family has.  This is all very generous and according to Thévenon “These policies are the main drivers in helping women combine family and work.”  For example, the article posits the lawyer Julie in southern France as a fairly typical case:

“A frantic day, packed with diapers and court appointments, has just begun. The 34-year-old attorney is the mother of 2-year-old Milan and 6-month-old Martin. After the feeding and dressing rituals of the morning, she drops the boys off at a part-time nursery school. She then rushes either to meet clients at the courthouse or the police station, or to the small practice she opened by herself two months ago in the town of Tourves, about 45 minutes north of Marseille.

She never takes a lunch break. That small sacrifice allows her to pick up Milan and Martin around 4:30pm and enjoy some playtime before preparing dinner. When the kids are finally sleeping peacefully, the young lawyer can get down to tackling the housework.

Julie’s case is fairly typical in France in as much as her children are in enrolled in some form of long-term childcare, even when they are a few months old.”

This is I’m sure the norm for many working mums and quite frankly I can’t imagine that I would survive as a working mum with children.  I am extremely impressed and in awe of those women (like my wife) who manage to work part-time. For those that work fulltime: it just blows my mind. Isn’t it sad though that so many women fell that they have to work in today’s economic environment, even if they don’t want to? I know of many young mums who are going back to work after their first child because they have to in order to pay the mortgage and bills. I know of some more women who are putting off having children because they don’t think that they can afford to drop down to one income.  While we have gained the choice for women to go into the workforce, it seems that many other women have lost the choice to raise their children.  But Shannon can speak to this point with much more authority than I can, and has done before on this blog. So while I applaud the French government’s generosity (and wonder how they pay for it…) I also lament the fact that we need so many economic incentives to have children. What happened to the good old days when one income was enough for a family of three or four or more children?  

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...