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New survey reveals French attitudes towards death

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The Local ([email protected])
New survey reveals French attitudes towards death
A couple stands in front of a group of trees to choose a place where they will rest after their death, in a forest in eastern France. (Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG / AFP)

November 1st marks Toussaint - a bank holiday in France during which many people visit cemeteries to pay their respects to the dead. Fresh polling by IFOP has provided insight into French attitudes towards death and the afterlife.

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Cemeteries in Paris are expected to receive more than 200,000 visitors on November 1st, many people traditionally use the Toussaint bank holiday as an opportunity to visit the graves of lost relatives, friends and strangers. 

Fittingly, French pollsters IFOP chose the occasion to publish a new survey on French attitudes towards death and the afterlife. 

Nearly a third of French people believe in life after death, according to a representative poll of 1,000 people.

31 percent of those questioned said they believe in life after death - down from 37 percent back in 1970. 

33 percent of those questioned said they didn't know whether there was an afterlife, up significantly from 16 percent in 1970.

"Growing interest in the paranormal and esoteric is can explain this increased uncertainty," according to the pollsters. 

The new survey revealed that younger people were more likely to believe in the afterlife - 41 percent of those aged under 35 said they believed in life after death versus 27 percent of those aged 35 and over. 

Reincarnation, heaven, hell 

The poll also measured popular beliefs in specific aspects of life after death, measuring them against a 2004 benchmark survey. 

It found that belief in reincarnation was on the rise, with 32 percent of people declaring they believed in reincarnation up 10 percent from 2004. 

Belief in heaven and hell also sat at 32 percent, but this represented a decline of 5 percent since 2004.

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Funerary preferences 

According to the study, 40 percent of French people would like a religious ceremony to mark their death compared to 55 percent in 2008. 

31 percent would like a civil ceremony, compared to 25 percent in 2008. And 29 percent would like no ceremony whatsoever, up significantly from 19 percent back in 2008.

The largest share of those surveyed, 50 percent, said that they would like their bodies to be cremated once they die. In 1979, this was the preference for just 20 percent of those polled. 

 29 percent said they would like to be buried, down from 53 percent in 1979. 

Meanwhile 21 percent said they were indifferent about what happens to their corpse. The remainder of those polled didn't respond to the question.

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Fear of death 

Only 49 percent of those surveyed said they were worried about the idea of their own death.

But when asked whether they were worried about their own death, the death of one of their children, partner, close friends or parents, 88 percent said they were concerned about at least one of these possibilities. 

Globally, the study showed that women were more worried about the possibility of death (for themselves or for others) than men. And those who had already confronted the passing of a loved one were also more likely to be worried about death. 

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