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bad news for pensions

Geopolitical uncertainties, global warming, housing crisis… The French are less inclined to have children in today’s France. A drop in the birth rate unprecedented since the Second World War, with fears of an acceleration in the aging of the population, detrimental to the balance of the retirement system. France, however, remains among the most fertile countries in Europe.

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Last year, 726,000 babies were born in France. The lowest level since the end of World War II. After reaching a rate in 2022 not seen since 1945, the number of births fell by another 7% over the first eight months of 2023, according to an INSEE study published on September 28. A continuing downward trend which makes demographers fear a “dropout” for this year.

“If this trend continues, the number of births should fall below the symbolic bar of 700,000 in 2023,” comments Chloé Tavan, head of the demographic surveys and studies division at INSEE, to AFP. “The year 2023 risks marking a new historic low, a real drop,” adds Didier Breton, professor of demography at the University of Strasbourg and associate researcher at the National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED).

However, a low birth rate causes “a phenomenon of demographic aging”, explains Gilles Pison, specialist in world demography, professor emeritus at the National Museum of Natural History and advisor to INED. “This has consequences that must be anticipated, such as the adjustment of retirement systems or the increase in the proportion of elderly people compared to the rest of the population, with the need for help and assistance for some of them when there are disabilities”.

The end of the French exception?

With an average number of children per woman of 1.8, France has until now been preserved compared to its European neighbors. But, according to Didier Breton, the country “is converging towards a fertility model that we observe in Europe, of 1.5 children per woman. We risk going from 1.8 to 1.7 in 2023”, comments he.

France is now getting closer to other EU countries, where births fell by 5% on average between 2021 and 2022: -2% in Spain and Italy, -7% in Germany, -8% in Poland, according to Chloe Tavan.

However, the French still remain “champions of the birth rate in Europe”, recalls Gilles Pison. “In the countries of southern Europe – Portugal, Greece, Italy and Spain, where women have fewer children, family policy is less generous in budgetary terms. The level of remuneration for parental leave and family allowances are less and the supply of care for young children so that mothers can continue to work is less abundant. Although we lack crèches and childminders, the situation is already better here than in these European countries “.

According to the demographer, “generally speaking, it turns out that it is when inequalities between men and women are less that women have more children.”

Inflation, housing crisis and war in Ukraine

The downward trend in the birth rate over the past 10 years has not always been continuous. Since 2011, the number of births has fallen each year but France experienced a slight rebound in 2021, the year following the confinements linked to Covid-19. These fluctuations from one year to the next are sometimes linked to economic conditions. “In the event of an economic crisis, we often observe a decrease in births,” explains Gilles Pison, estimating that they will then be caught up by an increase after the crisis.

Read alsoWith eight billion people on Earth, the fear of overpopulation

Currently, inflation and housing conditions can impact the desire to have a child, but also geopolitical and climatic uncertainties. “The war in Ukraine is an additional source of uncertainty about the future which can undoubtedly delay a birth project. In the background also climate change and the threatened future of the planet,” notes the demographer.

Especially since some French people, rather young, call themselves “childfree” or “ginks” and decide not to have children to protect the environment. In around ten years, the theme of non-procreation has gained ground. “Young people are more aware (of the climate emergency), thanks to the publication of studies on global warming and the emergence of questions of damage to biodiversity in the public debate”, already confided to France 24 in 2021 Denis Garnier, president of Démographie Responsible, an association which promotes a reduction in the birth rate.

Read alsoOverpopulation: they don’t want children to preserve the planet

The resumption of an increase in births could also come up against the high prevalence of infertility in the world which affects one in six people and spares no country, according to the WHO which now describes it as a “major health problem in all countries and in all regions of the world.

For men, studies have proven a 50% drop in male fertility linked to pesticides and a degraded environment, which increases the time it takes to conceive.

Late motherhood

The INSEE study, however, reveals that the birth rate is increasing in France in the generation of forty-year-olds. If births fell by 2.7% among women aged 25 to 29, and by 3.6% among those aged 30-34, the number of births to mothers aged 40 and over increased by 3. 3% between 2021 and 2022.

INSEE reports an increase in the average age at motherhood, which has reached 31.2 years, compared to 26 years in the second half of the 1970s. However, late motherhood has an effect on the number of children per year. couple. “If couples postpone their plans to have a child, they may find themselves facing fertility problems and forming smaller families,” observes Didier Breton.

With AFP


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