Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The French Paradox

The French are the most pessimistic people in the world, according to this poll. On the other hand, they're having babies at a rate of 2.01 per woman, and the population just passed 65 million, according to INSEE. Explain. (h/t Éloi Laurent)


Organe said...

They're bored

echo said...

One is a poll. Polls had Giscard beating Mitterrand in 81, Balladur getting elected in 95, and S. Royal beating Sarkozy. The other is a serious study.

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Sure, but we can interpret the inaccuracy of a poll in two ways: the sampling is faulty, or people don't know their own minds and misrepresent their true feelings. Of course, in the developing world, a declining birth rate is taken as a sign of optimism, as parents cease to believe that they must produce a large number of children in order to ensure that enough will survive to sustain them in old age (if they are lucky enough to survive themselves). In the developed world, the relation of birth rate to optimism is less straightforward, and France has always been anomalous in any case. Still, it is a question worth asking: Why, if the French so lack confidence in the future, they want to bring more and more children into it?

Anonymous said...

That translates as most families having 2 kids, with some having 1 and some having 3.
The difference with other countries is that many women don't want to stop working to have kids, hence 0 or 1 instead of "mostly 2".
In France, women are expected to keep working - many studies can be brandished showing that children whose mother doesn't work tend to do less well academically, tend to be less well-rounded, have fewer friends, etc.
This is facilitated by the fact Ecole Maternelle (preschool) used to take kids for half days at age 2 or 2 1/2 as long as they were "clean", i.e., potty-trained.
While "crèches" and "assistantes maternelles" are in short supply, écoles maternelles meant that parents would have at the most 2 years of child care to pay for and a garanteed space for their toddler.
It'd be interesting to see if the birth rate changes for the 2007-2015 period - when 2 and 2 1/2 year olds stopped being counted by the State for staffing purposes, thus effectively couldn't be admitted until age 3, while other "moyens de garde" were not increased would this absence of availability affect birth rates?
(A young friend of mine wondered "what do people do when their own parents aren"t living nearby, ready to watch the baby?")
In addition, culturally, it's really ill-seen to have zero child when you're married or pacsed ("what's the point?" - cohabitation being the norm.) If you're together for the long run, it'd be selfish of you to just enjoy the two of you and refuse to bring a child into the world (you get a few years "alone" - yup, being a committed couple without a baby is " a couple alone"). Illness is a "good excuse", as is "age", but not much else.
The fact new immigrant families tend to have more kids than those who've been in the country for at least one generation may play into that number.
I don't know whether that plays into it, but your monthly stipend increases a lot when you have two kids, and for 3 kids you're "famille nombreuse", meaning automatic discounts for train tickets, theater seats, reduced-lunch at school, scholarships, etc.
There's also health care: good health care, entirely free for pregnant women (actually, some of it is compulsory lest some women would endanger their precious cargo), plus 16 weeks paid maternity leave, which can be increased by 8 weeks in case of a difficult pregnancy, with a guarantee to get your job back (although in practice it often means women are sidelined - they get "a" job back but stop being offered projects/being promoted, etc)= pregnancy is not a risk.
Perhaps in Italy or Germany there's a sense that mothers have to behave in such and such a way, and anything else will be frowned upon, hence, no baby rather than stiffling conventions - whereas France is not as "stiffling" in its conventions of what a mother is supposed to be/do? (Aren't Italian and German mothers expected to quit work, for example?)

Of course, the US is an anomaly too, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

the French râlent. for sure, one could qualify this and say there are many a stoic hidden about the population with a stiff upper and all, but in general I have found that many French find it necessary to let off steam - often - and complain, whine, râle and be overall curmudgeons...and still want to and know how to pursue the good life, la joie de vivre and all that.
a paradox, doesn't make sense; its not logical nor very Cartesian. but that's the French for ya

Chris P.

Oaz said...

When counting the benefits for families with 3 children, do not forget the lower income taxes and the family allowance.

Average monthly salary in France is 2000€. An average family where both parents work earns 48000€/year
If they have 2 kids, their income tax is (roughly) 2000€/year and family allowance 1500€/year
If they have 3 kids, their income tax is 1000€/year and family allowance 3400€/year
Do the maths: the delta between the 2 families is 2900€/year i.e. 6% of their income.

That being said, I'm pretty sure money is not an incentive for having kids...

bernard said...

The other, related, French paradox is an obsession with population decline since the mid-1920s. That theme reappears regularly since then, until facts disprove it. The national identy "debate" was part of that theme, to which also belong the "declinistes" theses. J. Dutronc had a good song about this in the sixties "600 millions de petis moi et moi et moi".