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Births, marriages and many deaths: Five things that happened to France’s demographics in 2020

There were many deaths but despite the pandemic births and even the odd marriage continued - here's what happened to the population numbers in France in 2020.

Births, marriages and many deaths: Five things that happened to France's demographics in 2020
Total deaths in France in 2020 were substantially above average. Photo: AFP

French national statistics body Insee has released its annual report into the country's demographics, showing rates of births, marriages, deaths and migration over 2020.

Here's some of the main takeaways from the report.

Excess deaths

There's no getting away from the fact that a lot of people died in France in 2020. Insee lists excess deaths for 2020 at 53,900 – that is deaths from all causes compared the the average for 2015-2019.

Total death numbers in France with the black line showing the 2015-2019 average and red showing 2020 figures. The vertical red lines show the periods when France was under lockdown. Graphic: Insee

The graph shows death rates for 2020 grouping into two peaks which follow the first and second wave of Covid-19 in France. Deaths peaked at the end of March – two weeks after the first nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 17th, before falling steadily until the late summer. The second peak of deaths was lower than the first and occurred at the end of October as the country locked down for a second time.

The official Covid-19 death toll on January 1st was 64,765 – substantially higher than the excess death toll for 2020 of 53,900.

This would seem to indicate that official Covid death tolls in France do not have any 'missing' deaths – for example some countries do not count people who died in nursing homes or in their own home.

But deaths from other causes also fell – particularly during the first, strict lockdown the number of deaths from crashes on the roads halved and deaths at work also showed a sharp fall. It also seems likely that some of the elderly or frail people who might have died of seasonal flu in 2020 instead fell victim to Covid.

However in terms of death tolls for a single day, 2020 did not top the appalling heatwave of 2003 (shown in yellow on the graph) when 20,000 people – many of them elderly and living in cities – died over the course of a few days at the height of summer when temperatures soared.

Population growth

In spite of the considerably above average death toll, the total population of France still grew in 2020. On January 1st 2021 the population stood at 67,422,241, an increase of 135,000 people on 2019.

This represents a 0.25 percent increase, down on 0.34 percent the previous year. This continues a trend of a steady slowing in population growth in recent years – from 0.35 per cent in 2018 and 0.48 percent in 2017.

There doesn't seem to have been a noticeable trend of 'lockdown babies'. Photo: AFP

Births

There were plenty of jokes during the rounds during the spring lockdown that the end of the year would see a spike in births, as people had very little to do apart from watch TV and – if they were already living together – have sex.

However if people were doing more of that then it certainly didn't result in any extra babies – in total 740,000 babies were born in 2020, down 1.8 percent on the previous year.

This follows a long-term trend of declining birth rates in France which began a decade ago and has been steadily accelerating. On average, women in France have 1.84 children in 2020, compared to 1.86 the previous year.

However France remains the country with the highest birth rate in the EU – well above the average of 1.56 children per woman and topping the next highest of Sweden and Romania at 1.76 each.

Births still outnumbered deaths in 2020, with 740,000 births compared to 667,000 deaths.

Migration

With births only just higher than deaths, the biggest driver of the population increase was migration 

In previous years the largest single factor in population growth has been births outnumbering deaths, with migration as a secondary factor. However in 2020 that ratio was reversed – probably due to the excess death toll – and migration was the biggest single factor for growth with net inward migration of 87,000 people during the year.

Marriages 

Unsurprisingly for a year in which large gatherings were banned for many months at a time, the number of weddings fell by 34 per cent compared to the year before.

Excluding some weeks at the start of the the spring lockdown, for most of the year in France it has been possible for couples to get married, but gatherings of family and friends to celebrate the marriage have been strictly limited.

In total there were 148,000 marriages (including 4,000 between same-sex couples) in 2020, 34 percent down on 2019. The data for PACS (civil partnerships) only becomes available later, said Insee. 

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COVID-19

‘Serious malfunctions’ at French research unit headed by Didier Raoult

A criminal investigation is set to begin into the Marseille research unit headed by controversial scientist Didier Raoult, after a report found "serious malfunctions".

'Serious malfunctions' at French research unit headed by Didier Raoult

The findings of the joint investigation into the IHU at Marseille by the Inspection générale des affaires sociales (IGAS) and the  l’Inspection générale de l’éducation, du sport et de la recherche (IGESR) prompted Health Minister François Braun and Research Minister Sylvie Retailleau to refer the unit to the city’s public prosecutor, urging it to investigate “serious malfunctions” at the institution.

Raoult was head of the unit from its foundation in 2011 until his retirement this summer.

The controversial microbiologist gained significant worldwide attention during the Covid-19 pandemic for his vociferous promotion of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment, despite a lack of evidence on its effectiveness.

READ ALSO Five minutes to understand: Whatever happened to French professor Didier Raoult?

He was succeeded as director by Pierre-Edouard Fournier.

The ministers said that a number of issues highlighted in the latest report are “likely to constitute offences or serious breaches of health or research regulations”.

Fournier, and the institute’s seven founding members – including the University of Aix-Marseille, Assistance Publique-Hospitals de Marseille, the Research Institute for Development or the army health service – will now be summoned by their supervisory bodies to “implement a proactive action plan as soon as possible” which “will condition the continuation of the activity of the IHU-MI and its funding by the State”, according to the joint communiqué of the ministers.

The IHU was already under judicial investigation for “forgery in writing”, “use of forgery in writing”, and “interventional research involving a human person not justified by his usual care without obtaining the opinion of the committee for the protection of persons and the authorisation of the Agence nationale de sécurité du médicament et des produits de santé (ANSM),” the Marseille prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday.

In an earlier report, the ANSM had noted “serious breaches of the regulations for research involving humans”, during some clinical trials.

READ ALSO Maverick French Covid doctor reprimanded over ‘breaches’ in clinical trials

François Crémieux, the director of Marseille public hospitals, told local newspaper La Provence on Tuesday that the establishment “shares the observation of managerial excesses of certain hospital-university managers occupying key functions within the infectious diseases division”.

“The legitimacy of the IHU has been affected. It has lost its scientific credibility. It must now be regained. 800 highly skilled professionals work there every day,” he added.

Raoult bit back at the report in a tweet, saying: “I regret that the IGAS/IGAENR mission does not take into account the detailed legal and scientific response that I have provided”.

Separately, Raoult will be in court on Friday as his defamation case against Karine Lacombe, Professor of Infectious Diseases at Sorbonne University Faculty of Medicine, comes before judges.

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