The French birth rate is higher than its been in 30 years, defying European trends and France's own collective pessimism. Portrait of a distrustful society made of individuals betting on the future.
Demographics are a funny thing! We have before us a France that is booming. The 2010 data released this week by the French national statistics institute show that we apparently know no crisis or depression or the slow suffocation of a nation that all too often seems somehow doomed.
Last year, French mothers gave birth to 828,000 babies. The birth total is the highest its been in 30 years, far closer to the peak of the post-War baby boom (878,000 in 1964) than the low point of its graying years (711,000 in 1994).
A symbolic threshold has been crossed for the first time since 1974: French women have an average of two children (based on the total fertility rate). In one generation, the country has surpassed 65 million inhabitants, up by 10 million. And one generation from now France will have more people than Germany, where the population has been declining for the past seven years.
This France vitality can be attributed to three main factors. The first is technical: a time lag. In recent decades, women were more likely to be employed, and therefore decided to have children later, pushing the average age of a mother giving birth above 30. And the boost in fertility has shown up most notably in those mothers older than 35, more likely than before to be able to have children.
The second reason is political: the State continues to encourage a rising birth rate with a wide array of policy measures, from family allowances to support for childcare to targeted tax breaks for having children. Future leaders will need to keep this information in mind when they move ahead with tough budget cuts.
The third source of our population boost is more profound: the French simply want to have kids. In a country beset by doubt, with little obvious hope on the horizon, and fearful of a changing world, this is a desire that is a deep-down bet on the future. A poll released this week by the Foundation for Political Innovation, measuring attitudes of young people from 25 countries, makes the point clearly: French youth are both among the most pessimistic about the situation of their country (25% satisfied) and the most worried about an increasingly globalized world (only 52% see it as an opportunity), and yet at the same time more likely than others to say they want to start a family (47%) and have children (60%). In a world perceived as hostile, we retreat to the nest.
Behind this French "birthing" itch, there is the best and the worst, hope and fear. The desire of children, however, is ultimately a sign of deep confidence in the future. Yet there must be a way to connect this individual feeling and our collective destiny, so that we might finally become a society that has as much confidence as its individual members.
Read the original article in French
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