France: The baby-making champions of Europe

The French birth rate is now the highest in Europe, according to a new study, after it knocked Ireland off the top spot thanks to a number of reasons. But will it stay that way?

France: The baby-making champions of Europe
Hilde Vanstraelen (File)
France has overtaken Ireland to reach the top of the birth rate league in Europe, according to a report released on Wednesday.
Figures published by France's national statistics agency Insee revealed that French women give birth to an average of 1.99 children – with the rate having dropped below the symbolic two mark.
That figure compares to 1.96 in Ireland and 1.89 in Sweden, Europe's most prolific baby-making countries after France.
Since 2006 France has been the only country among its neighbours to record a high and stable birth rate. 
Most of the other European countries saw declining birth rates that matched their countries' gloomy economies in the face of the financial crisis.
Insee concluded that birth rates fell if there was a steep rise in unemployment, as was seen in southern European nations, or a significant drop in wages, as was seen in the UK.
Insee's Chief of Social Studies, Laurence Rioux, told The Local that France managed to maintain a high and stable birth rate because wages had remained stable and the unemployment rate, despite being at a record high, has only risen 2.9 percentage points since 2008.
“In the UK the fall in birth rate could be linked to a drop in disposable income, while in countries like Greece and Spain, it can be linked to a steep rise in unemployment,” Rioux said.
“France has seen a rise in unemployment but it's not been too dramatic compared to other countries, and wages or disposable income has only moderately dropped. That's why we think the country has maintained a high birth rate,” she added.
(Photo: AFP)
Rioux also said France's high public spending on families, whether through family allowances or services, also played a role, as it does in other countries like Sweden.
“Public spending plays a key role. Birth rates are higher where spending on families is higher, like in the UK, France, Ireland and Sweden,” she added.
But despite what appears to be promising news for France, the Le Parisien newspaper painted a bleaker picture. 
Under the headline “France has the baby blues”, it noted that France was suffering a severe drop in the number of births over the first three quarters of 2015.
In fact, the January to September total of 569,000 children marks the lowest total number of births during the first nine months of any year since 1999.
Insee's Rioux warned, however, against drawing any conclusions from these figures, saying they're only provisional and that it was far too early to tell whether it mean's France's birth rate is dramatically falling. 

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France investigates spike in babies born with arm defects

France's health minister on Sunday announced a new investigation into the births of several babies with upper limb defects in various parts of the country in recent years, saying it was "unacceptable" no cause had been found.

France investigates spike in babies born with arm defects
Photo: Depositphotos
Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said she and her environment counterpart Francois de Rugy had decided to look more closely at what caused 14 babies to be born with stunted or missing arms since 2007, two weeks after health authorities said they had failed to find an explanation.
The cases have been concentrated in three French “departments” or administrative areas: Ain near the Swiss border, which had seven cases between 2009 and 2014; Brittany on the West coast which had four cases between 2011 and 2013; and Loire-Atlantique, south of Brittany, which had three cases in 2007-2008.
In an October 4 report France's public health agency said that while the number of cases in the Ain area was not above the national average, the numbers in Brittany and Loire-Atlantique were statistically “excessive”. But it said it found no “common exposure” to substances that could explain them.
Fewer than 150 babies are born each year in France with upper limb defects, which occur when part of, or the entire arm, fails to form completely during pregnancy. While the cause of the defects is unknown, research has shown that exposure of the mother to certain chemicals or medication during the pregnancy can increase the risk.
Buzyn told LCI channel that environmental experts would now join health experts in investigating the cases to try to shed light on the phenomenon.
“We cannot content ourselves with saying we didn't find the case, that's unacceptable,” she said.
In the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of babies around the world were born with missing or stunted limbs linked to the use of the drug thalidomide, which was used to treat nausea in pregnant women. It was banned in the 1960s.