*This is a French language learner article. The words in bold are translated into French at the bottom of the article.
France has maintained its crown as Europe's most fertile country but that could soon be a thing of the past if the latest numbers from France's national office of statistics Insee are anything to go by.
A total of 758,000 babies were born in France last year, which is 12,000 fewer than in 2017 although the drop in the number of births does seem to be slowing down.
There are now an average of 1.87 children per woman in France compared to 2017 when that figure stood 1.88.
It is the fourth year in a row that the number births in France has dropped in a country that was once proud of its high fertility levels.
Photo: Kristina Servant/Flickr
In 2015 The Local reported that France had the highest birth rate in Europe at 1.96 children per woman, although this was also down from the symbolic rate of two children per mother in 2014.
Part of the reason, as reported by Insee, is due to the fact that there are fewer and fewer women of child-bearing age 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.
In 2018, there were 8.4 million French women aged between 20 and 40, compared to 8.8 million in 2008 and 2009.
The economic downturn is also believed to have had an influence.
The National Union of Family Associations (UNAF) is concerned by the falling birthrate and sees it as “probable proof that families have less and less confidence in the future and that their day to day existence with children has deteriorated”.
The union adds that “This decline is therefore probably a sign of increasing difficulties and constraints for families. Moreover, it is a high-risk trend for France, whose welfare system (pensions, health insurance …) is based on its demography.”
UNAF has long criticized consecutive French government's policies towards families which have seen benefits and allowances cut in recent years, tax credits reduced and VAT rise, all of which have made having a family more expensive.
The concern for economies is that a lagging birth rate means a smaller and smaller population of workers supporting an ever growing number of 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.
However some experts say that there's no need to worry just yet due to the fact that France's birth rate is still relatively high.
“There was a peak in 2010, then a decline since 2015,” Lawrence Toulemon, a demographer at the National Institute of Demographic Studies, told Le Monde.
“Nevertheless, if we look at the last 40 years, the fertility rate of French women remains relatively stable, with between 1.8 and 2 children per woman since 1975, with the exception of a drop to around 1.65 in the 1990s.”
In fact, according to the latest data from Eurostat in 2016, France has the highest fertile rate of any European country.
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.
“Although this is not the reason why they choose to have children, couples know that they will be able to work relatively quickly after a birth, and that they will not be forced to pay a very high price for education,” said Toulemon.
“In France, it is rather couples of childbearing age who do not have children who are singled out,” he adds.
Deaths on the rise
The Insee report also revealed that the natural balance (the difference between births and deaths) in France was at its lowest since the Second World War.
This is because in addition to the drop in the number of births there were a record number of deaths in France in 2018.
As of January 1st 2019, France had 66,993,000 inhabitants, with 64,812,000 living in mainland France and 2,181,000 in the country's overseas territories.
In 2018, the country's population increased by 0.3 percent.
Fertile – fertile
Statistics – statistiques
Average – le moyen, la moyenne
Birth rate – le taux de natalité
Baby boom – le baby-boom (une explosion démographique)
Economic downturn – une ralentissement économique
Retirees – un retraité, une retraitée
Incentive – une avantage
Nevertheless – néanmoins
Welfare system – assistance sociale
Public spending – dépenses publiques
Childcare – garde d'enfants