Men still the top earners in most French couples

Men are by far the main breadwinners in most French households, with three out of four women earning less than their other halves - in many cases a lot less - according to figures released on Thursday. The government has taken steps to try to redress the balance.

Men still the top earners in most French couples
Three quarters of French women in couples are earning less than their partners, new figures show. Photo: Viktor 1958/Flickr

Just days before International Women's Day, new figures show that on average, French women in a relationship earn a staggering 42 percent less than their male partners, an imbalance that equality groups say stems from legal and cultural issues.

The study from France’s national statistics agency INSEE, which came out on Thursday, shows that out of ten million French couples in 2011, the female partner made an annual income of €16,700 ($22,900) compared to their spouses who took home €29,000 ($39,800).

The INSEE study also revealed that on the whole three out of four women bring home less than their partners.

The gap was most pronounced in married couples. Married women, on average, brought in just 34 percent of family income as opposed to women in cohabiting couples who contributed about 41 percent to the household’s coffers.

An expert on inequality in France told The Local the problem stems from cultural barriers as well as misguided governmental policies, in particular one that doled out subsidies in the 1980s and 1990s to create part-time jobs for women.

"Four part-time jobs out of five are filled by women in France," Noam Leandri, the president of the Observatoire des Inégalités, told The Local. "The idea, originally, was to allow more women to work, but later on the government realized it locked women into part-time work."

This kind of gap however, is nothing new, with years worth of data illustrating the discrepancy.

Last year, INSEE released a study showing women working in the public sector in France can expect to earn about 13 percent less than their male counterparts. While the disparity was even wider – 20 percent – in the private industry.

Equality laws brought in over the years haven't been of much help either in promoting income equality. For example, until 1946 France had a ten percent tax that applied only to income earned by women.

In 1972 a law mandating equal pay in France was brought in, but it is rarely enforced. Though a recent change to the law has made it easier to sanction companies that don’t follow the rules.

The difference in pay is also explained by higher numbers of women working part time as well higher numbers of female workers in lower paid industries like health care or retail sales. Despite these factors women are still paid 20 percent less than men in the same job, Leandri says.

France has targeted this gap by proposing a sweeping set of new laws that would attack male and female inequality from numerous fronts. In addition to rules that would allow for men to take more time off to help with the raising of children, the bill also proposes making it mandatory for women to sit on the boards of some major companies.

The willingness among French lawmakers to consider the bill comes as there are signs of a more equal France for men and women. The INSEE study found that between 2002 and 2011 the income gap in couples shrank, due to larger earnings for women.

Leandri said it's important make note of the gains women have made.

"Salary inequality remains a problem, but I think that if we looked 30 years into the past we would not have found a quarter of women who made more than their husbands," Leandri said. "Instead of highlighting the three quarters who make less than their husbands, we should take notice of those who do."

It is also worth noting that for the 44 percent of couples where both partners worked full time, the income gap was less pronounced with 56 percent of men earning more than their partners.

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How to get a summer job in France

As the summer holidays approach in France, many employers are looking for seasonal workers - so if you're looking for a summer job, here's how to go about it.

How to get a summer job in France

There are thousands of employment offers in France – a simple internet search for jobs d’été came up with numerous jobs boards offering work in France, while the government-backed Centre d’Information et de Documentation pour la Jeunesse (CIDJ) offers advice and information on all aspects of life for young people in France, including finding seasonal work and summer placements.

Sectors including agriculture, hospitality and tourism are always recruiting in the summer, seeking fruit-pickers, holiday camp workers and serving/hotel staff.

But what are the rules for people seeking summer jobs?

READ ALSO Vendange: What you really sign up for when you agree to help with the French wine harvest


Children from the age of 16 (under certain circumstances, the age limit drops to 14) who are legally resident in France can work as long as they have written authorisation from their parents or legal guardians. A model authorisation letter is available here

Those under the age of 18 cannot undertake certain jobs for health and safety reasons.

In the following circumstances, children as young as 14 or 15 can work during school holidays.

  • The holidays must last at least 14 days;
  • The child must work no more than half the days of the holiday – so, if a vacation period is two weeks, they can work for no more than one of those weeks;
  • The child is given ‘light duties’ that offer no risk to their safety, health, or development;
  • From the age of 15 and if the child has completed their troisieme education, a minor can register for an apprenticeship. 


Salary is usually paid monthly and will have a payslip. For those aged 18 and over, pay will be at least equal to the minimum wage.

 For those aged 14 to 17, who have less than six months’ professional experience, the minimum allowed rate is 80 percent of the minimum wage. For those aged 17 to 18, the rate rises to a minimum of 90 percent of France’s minimum wage.

  • The minimum wage in France is currently €10.85 gross per hour (€1,645.58 gross per month based on a 35-hour week);
  • the employment contract is fixed-term and can take different forms (fixed-term contract, seasonal employment contract, temporary employment contract, etc);
  • Seasonal employees are subject to the same obligations as the other employees of the company and have access to the same benefits (canteens, breaks, etc.).

Under 18s have certain additional protections:

  • between the ages of 14 and 16, during school holidays, employees on any contract cannot work more than 35 hours per week nor more than 7 hours per day;
  • They cannot work at night;
  • Those aged 14 to under 16 working during their school holidays can only be assigned to work which is not likely to harm their safety, their health or development.

Right to work in France

If you’re a French citizen or hold permanent residency in France then you have the right to work, but for foreigners there are extra restrictions.

Anyone who holds the passport of a EU/EEA country or Switzerland, is free to work in France or to travel to France seeking work without needing a visa or work permit.

Most other people will need permission to work in France – even if it’s only for a short period or for casual work such as grape-picking. Depending on your country of origin you may need a visa – everything you need to know about that is here.

In addition to the visa, you may also need a work permit, which is the responsibility of the employer.  To employ anyone in France for less than 90 days, an employer must get a temporary work permit – before the prospective employee applies for a short stay visa. This permit is then sent to the embassy at which the employee is applying for a visa.

If you come from countries including the UK, USA and Canada you can spend up to 90 days in France without a visa – but you may still need a work (convention d’accueil) if you want to work while you are here.

READ ALSO Six official websites to know if you’re planning to work in France

Certain countries have specific ‘seasonal worker’ visas on offer, for certain sectors which allows – for example – Canadians to come to France and work the ski season. 

Cash-in-hand jobs

Certain sectors which have a lot of casual workers – for example seasonal fruit-picking – do have cash-in-hand jobs, known in France as marché noir (black market) or simply travail au black (working on the black, or working illegally). 

This is of course illegal and working this way carries risks – as well as the possibility of losing your job if labour inspectors turn up you are also in a vulnerable position. If your employer suddenly decides not to pay you, or make unexpected deductions from your wages, there is very little you can do about it since you won’t have any kind of work contract.