Why are the French making fewer and fewer babies?

France's birth rate has dropped for the third year in a row, new statistics revealed on Tuesday, leaving a question hanging over how long the French can hold onto their title as the baby-making champions of Europe.

Why are the French making fewer and fewer babies?
Hilde Vanstraelen (File)

France has been Europe's most fertile country but that could soon be a thing of the past if the latest statistics from France's national office of statistics Insee are anything to go by. 

A total of 767,000 babies were born in France last year, which is 17,000 fewer than in 2016, representing a 2.1 percent drop in the country's birth rate.
There are now an average of 1.88 children per female in France compared to 2016 when that figure stood at 1.92 and 2014 when it was two children per woman. 
This rate has been on the decline for the past three years in a country that was once proud of its high fertility levels. 
In 2015 The Local reported that France had the highest birth rate in Europe at 1.96 children per woman, although this was down from the symbolic rate of two children per mother in 2014.
French birth rate drops below symbolic level
Photo: Kristina Servant/Flickr
While France remains the European Union's most fertile country ahead of Ireland according to the most recent data available, it seems unlikely this will remain the case for long if the current downturn in birth rate continues. 
But why is the birth rate declining?
Part of the reason, as reported by Insee is that the lowering birth rate is partly due to the fact that there are fewer and fewer women of child-bearing ages in France.
The number of 20 to 40-year-old women have been on the decrease in France since the 1990's, as women born in the baby-boom period of 1946-1964 start to leave that age bracket.
The latest report from Insee showed that fewer women aged 25-29 were having children, a trend which has existed since 2000 and has accelerated since 2015. 
The average age at which women are giving birth is 30.6 compared to 29.8 ten years ago, Insee reported.
Photo: AFP
The economic downturn also may have something to do with it, according to Insee.
The reason why France was considered to have maintained a healthy birth rate was down to its generous health and welfare system, relatively low childcare costs and high public spending on families.
But in recent years, the economic squeeze has seen budgets tightened.
Since 2012, fewer than 50,000 new child care spaces have been created (compared to the 275,000 that were promised). And for Gérard-François Dumont demography professor at the Sorbonne University in Paris, there is no doubt over the correlation between the two. 
“For 40 years, changes in the birth rate have followed governmental policies regarding the family,” he said. “The effects of the measures taken since 2012 started to be felt in 2016 and this increased in 2017. We must not forget the drop in grants to local authorities who as a result have been more reluctant to develop childcare. The difficulties of reconciling family life and professional life are greater.”
But other specialists were less direct in their criticisms of the government. 
“It is difficult to establish a direct link but the decline in aid could enter the game,” Laurent Toulemon, demography expert at the National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED) told Le Monde. “We used to have a very inclusive family policy, with the idea that the state helps all families. Its structural erosion may have had an effect on French confidence.”
Others stressed that the reasons behind a change in a country's birth rate is hard to pin down. 
“There is no explanatory model of fertility variations,” said Laurent Chalard, a population expert at the-Sorbonne. “They result from personal decisions and are linked to changes in mentalities.”
Just a few years ago, before the full weight of the economic crisis hit in Europe, the news about birth rates was much more positive.
And most European countries saw declining birth rates that matched their countries' gloomy economies in the face of the financial crisis.
Insee has previously 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. 
And why does it matter?
The concern for economies is that a lagging birth rate means a smaller and smaller population of workers supporting an ever growing number or retirees who are drawing pensions. They also raise the possibility of shrinking nations, as countries need a fertility rate of 2.07 children per woman to keep their populations steady.
In order to stabilise the number of babies being born, France has prioritized key incentives like subsidized daycare, cash support payments to families and a range of discounts.
But if they want to keep their crown as the baby-making champions of Europe, France may have to come up with some new ideas. 
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UPDATE: Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Travelling between Spain and the UK during the pandemic has been very difficult due to border closures, cancelled flights and quarantines, but what is the situation like now? Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Driving between Spain and UK
Photo: Bertsz / 67 images/ Pixabay

Several readers have asked about the restrictions and necessary documents and tests needed to drive to the UK and if it’s possible. Here’s what you need to know.

Travelling by car between the UK and Spain at the moment is possible, but not very easy. Although it’s a lot easier now than it was before the state of alarm ended, it will still involve PCR and/or antigen testing, quarantine, and lots of form-filling. This will mean extra expenses too. 

Spain and France have both updated their rules on travel as restrictions begin to ease. Here’s a look at what you need to know driving between the UK and Spain, via France right now.

Leaving Spain

Movement in Spain has become a lot easier since the end of the state of alarm on May 9th. This means that you can easily drive across regional borders without the need to prove specific reasons.

There may still be certain municipalities or health zones that you might need to avoid because their borders are still closed due to a high number of cases, but for the most part, your drive through Spain, up until the French border, will be easy.

Keep in mind that some regions still have certain restrictions in place such as when bars and restaurants are allowed to open and a few still maintain curfews, so you’ll need to check the rules of those regions you’re planning on driving through.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: What are the post state of alarm restrictions in each region in Spain?

Crossing the French border from Spain

Travel into France is allowed for any reason, including for tourism and family visits. This easing of restrictions was introduced on May 3rd, which saw France opening up both its regional and international borders.

According to the French embassy in Spain: “Entry into the metropolitan territory from a country in the European area is subject to the presentation, by travellers over eleven years of age, of a negative result of a PCR test, carried out within 72 hours prior to departure. This obligation applies to all modes of travel (arrival by road, rail, air or sea)”.

They also state that all travellers will have to present an affidavit/certificate of international travel, certifying that they do not have symptoms of Covid-19 infection and that they are not aware of having been in contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 in the fourteen days prior to the trip.

“If you are over eleven years old, you agree that a biological test for SARS-CoV-2 will be carried out upon arrival on French territory” it continues.

The certificate can be downloaded from the website of the French Ministry. The supporting documents must be presented to the control authorities at the border.

The test must be carried out within 72 hours of departing for France and the antigen test is not accepted. You must take a PCR test, otherwise, you’ll be refused entry to France.

A Spanish police officer checks PCR coronavirus tests at the border between Spain and France. Photo: RAYMOND ROIG / AFP

You can drive straight through France, as there’s no quarantine requirement for those coming from inside the EU.

Note that France still has several restrictions in place, but they are gradually easing. As of May 19th, the curfew was extended to 9pm and bars and restaurants were allowed to operate outdoor services only. This means that you’ll need to stop driving and find somewhere to spend the night after the 9pm cut-off time.

If you have to travel past curfew for an essential reason, you will need an attestation permission form, which you can find HERE.

From June 9th, the curfew will be extended again until 11pm and the interiors of bars and restaurants will be allowed to re-open. 

Masks are compulsory in all indoor public spaces across the country, and also outdoors in most of the larger towns and cities. If you don’t wear one, you could face a fine of €135.

Entering the UK

On May 17th, the UK government lifted its ban on all non-essential travel abroad and replaced it with the traffic light system, assigning countries to red, amber or green lists, according to their health data.

France and Spain are currently on the amber list, as well as most other European countries, bar Portugal, which is on the green list.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The European countries on England’s ‘amber’ travel list and what that means

This means that you must follow the amber list rules.

The UK government website states that if coming from an amber-list country, even if you’ve been vaccinated, you need to follow these rules before you enter England:

 On arrival in England you must:

  • quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for 10 days
  • take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8

Children aged 4 and under do not need to take the day 2 or day 8 test.

You may be able to end quarantine early if you pay for a private COVID-19 test through the Test to Release scheme.

The traffic light list only applies to England, but Scotland also has its own traffic-light system, which at the moment has the same green-list countries as England. It is thought that Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to adopt the traffic light system too.

If you’re entering the UK from an amber country, you can go for any reason. It doesn’t have to be an essential trip and entry is not limited to UK nationals or residents.

Find further information on UK travel rules HERE.

If in the future, France makes it onto the green list, then no quarantine will be necessary. Regardless, of this, a negative Covid-19 test is still needed to enter England, plus another test on or before day 2.

What about driving back to Spain?

The UK is still advising against travel to amber countries for leisure or tourism reasons, which France and Spain are both currently on.

This isn’t a travel ban, but the official stand can mean that your travel insurance won’t be valid, so check your policy before you travel.

JUNE UPDATE: From Monday, May 31st, France is tightening up entry requirements for arrivals from the UK, following in the footsteps of Germany and Austria as European countries become increasingly concerned about circulation of the ‘Indian variant’ of Covid in the UK.

So what’s the situation if you are just passing through?

If you are returning to your permanent residence in another EU or Schengen zone country then you can travel, as one of the listed ‘vital reasons’ is returning home. You will, however, need to show some proof of your residency, ideally a residency card.

If you are travelling for another reason you can travel through France, provided you spend less than 24 hours in the country.

The testing requirement applies to all arrivals, even if you are only passing through France, but if you spend less than 24 hours in the country you are not required to quarantine.

You will also need to check the rules in your destination country on arrivals from France. If you are entering France from an EU or Schengen zone country you will need to show a negative Covid test taken within the previous 72 hours and this must be a PCR test. You can enter France for any reason from an EU/Schengen country.

And yes, these rules all apply even to the fully vaccinated.

To find out more about the rules and exceptions for travel between France and the UK click the link below.

READ MORE: Spain-UK road travel – Can I transit through France despite the new Indian variant restrictions?

Currently, the Spanish government website states that only citizens and legal residents of the European Union, Schengen states, Andorra, Monaco, The Vatican and San Marino, as well as those who can demonstrate through documentary evidence an essential need to enter Spain, will be able to enter the country.

However, Spain recently announced that it would welcome British tourists into the country without a negative PCR test from May 24th. 


The website also states that “all overland travellers (excluding children under the age of 6 years old) who wish to enter Spain by road from France, are required to present a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 72 hours prior to entry”.

This applies to everyone, even if you have been vaccinated already.

Please note The Local is not able to give advice on individual cases. For more information on international travel to and from Spain, see the government’s website and check the restrictions in your destination country with the appropriate embassy.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I fly from the UK to Spain to visit family or my second home?