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Is France a good country to grow old in?

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
Is France a good country to grow old in?
An older couple rides past Le Mont-Saint-Michel in France. (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

The French population is ageing rapidly while the country remains a popular one to retire to - so we've taken a look at how good the quality of life is for older people in France.

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France is home to a lot of older people - about 20 percent of the country's population is currently over the age of 65, but by 2030 over 65s are expected to outnumber under 15s.

Meanwhile centenarians (people aged 100 or over) have seen a "spectacular" rise in numbers, the national demographics institute said, growing from around 1,000 in 1970, to 8,000 in 2000, and rising 31,000 at the start of this year.

On current trends, 200,000 people in France will be 100 or older by 2070, it said.

As France prepares for more ageing people, The Local spoke with veteran correspondent, John Lichfield (aged 74 and still going strong) on this week's episode of Talking France about whether France really is a good country to grow old in.

 

"I think old people are pretty well looked after. It is a fact that France has more centenarians than other European countries, and it has a very old population.

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"It's a country that seems to cherish old people and old people flourish for the most part," he said.

How do older people in France feel?

France often scores average-to-low on satisfaction surveys when compared with its European neighbours.

In 2023, the country came in 21st place internationally on the World Happiness Report, and it even dropped down a spot from the year previous. 

When it comes to the elderly, an INSEE study with data from 2010-2019 found that happiness depended on geographical location, as well as age. Self-reported life satisfaction generally decreased with age, with young people (under 28) the happiest.

READ MORE: MAP: Where are the happiest areas of France?

However, these trends expand beyond France. Across the EU, younger people tend to be more satisfied with life than older people, with the exception of a few countries like Switzerland, Denmark and Austria.

But John pointed to the ways that France stands out, with long life spans and the fact that, while dropping, France does have the highest total fertility rate in the EU with 1.79 live births per woman.

"Longevity (the technical term for living well beyond the species-specific average age at death) is supposedly connected with being content, and so is a high birth rate. France has a lot of longevity, and it also has a higher birth rate than its neighbours. These things suggest that France is a more contented country than it says it is.

According to recent data France will have over 200,000 people aged 100 and above by 2070, and the country is already home to the highest number of 'centenarians' in the EU, with a quickly rising number of 'super-centenarians' (people who live beyond 110).

READ MORE: Why do the French live so long?

Foreign older people are also opting to move here. In the 2024 global retirement index by US-based group International Living, France made the top 10 (9th place) for the best places abroad for retirement.

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What about the practical side of ageing?

"There is no good country to grow old in, but I think that you get a better deal in France than you do in some neighbouring countries in terms of pension, healthcare, and more," said John.

Even though France recently increased its retirement age to 64, it is still on the lower age for Europe, according to data from economic forum the OECD.

While it is not the lowest - in Austria women can retire at 60 and in Bulgaria at 61 years and 8 months, France performs well when compared to the US - where the retirement age is 67 for anyone born after 1960 - and the United Kingdom, where the retirement age is being gradually increased, those born after April 1977 may need to wait until 68 before they can access state pension benefits. 

As for healthcare, France has 32 doctors for every 10,000 people, slightly below the OECD average of 37. It's fair to say that there are some issues with the French system, particularly with 'medical deserts' (areas with doctor shortages).

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One in ten French people has no GP or médecin traitant. Over 600,000 French people with chronic illnesses have no doctor. But the state funded system, which is available to anyone who has lived more than three months in France, has plenty of benefits. 

READ MORE: How does healthcare in France compare?

For example, the French medical booking website Doctolib recently reported that half of all GP appointments are available within three days from the time of booking.

Wait times can be a bit longer for specialists, but France's ‘shop around’ approach for both primary and elective care makes long wait lists uncommon.

There are also plenty of schemes already in place to support the elderly, including easily accessible 'information points', which serve as a port of call for anyone wondering about elderly care in France.

Programmes from assistance with booking a home help aide to food services and reduced pricing on home renovations for mobility and environmental purposes are also on offer, though they are usually means-tested and require the person to be living in France full-time.

The postal service La Poste also offers a range of services for older people including a 'check in' service for people living alone and a parcel collection option.

Older people can also benefit from pensioner discount cards - such as the SNCF Carte Avantage Sénior, which offers 30 percent off on train fares, as well as free Metro passes in the Paris region for low-income residents over 65. 

READ MORE: Explained: The help available for older people in France

What about policy?

The French government has begun to reckon with its growing ageing population.

In April, France's parliament passed the 'loi bien vieillir' (the ageing well law), which covers several areas from better protections for elderly people from abuse and loneliness to helping increase the status of caregivers by giving them ‘professional cards’ and increasing individual autonomy.

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The new legislation will make it so that people in care homes now have a right to daily visitors, even if they have not been signed off in advance by the staff. They also have the right to have a pet, as long as they can care for it. 

The law also makes it so that every five years, lawmakers will be required to propose and vote on a law that would re-evaluate strategy, governance, funding and programming for the elderly. 

READ MORE: 'Ageing well' - France's new law to support the elderly and carers

Is the situation as good for foreigners as it is for the French?

A lot depends on your personal circumstances and foreigners looking to grow old in France should weigh the pros and the cons. the cost of living in France might be cheaper than your home country, but accessing your foreign pension could be more complicated in France for tax reasons (more information here).

Learning a new language as an older person can also be challenging, as is being far away from loved ones.

For many people, moving to France is a great decision, several readers of The Local told us they fell in love with the quality of life here. 

READ MORE: 6 reasons to retire to France

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