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France - People

In 2006 the population of France was estimated at 60,876,136, up by more than 2 million since the last census in 1999. In addition, 1.9 million live in France’s overseas departments and territories. The annual population growth rate has averaged about 0.4 percent in recent years, less than half the U.S. rate but somewhat above the low West European norm. Nearly all of the European Union (EU) population growth in recent years has come from France, as in 2003, when France added 211,000 out of the EU’s 216,000 total increase. The population density in France proper is 111 people per square kilometer of land area (2005 estimate). Threequarters of the French population live in urban settings, defined as cities and towns with more than 2,000 inhabitants.

Since the late eighteenth century, France’s demographic pattern has differed from that of other West European countries. France was the most populous country in Europe until 1795 and the third most populous in the world, behind only China and India. However, unlike the rest of Europe, France did not experience strong population growth in the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth century. The country’s birthrate dropped after the French Revolution, when the peasantry gained an ownership stake in land and then limited births to ensure passing on viable plots of land to their children. Thanks to this limitation, France effected the “demographic transition” to lower birthrates much earlier than other countries, and France’s population eventually fell in comparative terms behind Germany, the United Kingdom, and Italy, as well as a score of non-West European countries. After World War II, France was again atypical among European countries, in that its postwar baby boom lasted longer than elsewhere. As a result, since 1991 France has regained its position behind only Germany as the most populous West European nation. If present trends continue, the French will outnumber the Germans by mid-century.

Estimates on current total fertility rates in France range from very slightly above to slightly below the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman. Women continue to postpone childbearing through high contraception usage (legalized in 1967) and abortion (legalized in 1974). In 2004 the average age of women who gave birth was 29.6. Notwithstanding this late childbearing, the native birthrate has been rising slightly and stands at 11.99 per 1,000 (2006 estimate). Infant mortality stands at an extremely low level, 4.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2006. The overall death rate is 9.14 deaths per 1,000 population (2006 estimate).

The most striking demographic feature of France, as of other advanced industrial countries, is population aging. France’s median age is 39.1 years. Life expectancy for men and women combined stood at 79.7 in 2006, with men living 76.1 years and women living 83.5 years. Life expectancy gains stem from reductions in adult mortality, with more and more of all deaths occurring in advanced old age. The age structure of the population is typical for Europe, with 18.3 percent under 15 and 16.4 percent over 65, a number expected to grow to 24 percent in 2030. If labor market behavior remains unchanged, France’s labor force will begin to shrink and age significantly after 2010. One person in four of working age will be over 50 in 2010, compared with one in five at the present time.

Positive net migration - 0.66 migrants per 1,000 in 2006 - plays a relatively minor role in France’s population dynamics, and, once immigrants are settled in the country, their birthrates fall rather quickly toward the local norm. According to French statistics, this change can occur within a single generation.

The national language is French. Some rapidly declining regional dialects and languages also are spoken, including Alsatian, Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican, Flemish, and Provençal. French derived from the vernacular Latin spoken by the Romans in Gaul. Historically, French served as the international language of diplomacy, and it remains a unifying force in parts of the world, chiefly, Africa.

France is the most ethnically diverse country of Europe. A crossroads since prehistoric times, the country’s “historic populations” were a blend of European ethnic stocks, Celtic (Gallic and Breton), Aquitanian (related to Basque), Latin, and Germanic. Over the past 200 years, France has been unusual among European states in periodically attracting large-scale immigration. In the nineteenth century, the new populations that arrived?forebears of 40 percent of today’s inhabitants?included southern Europeans, Belgians, Poles, Armenians, East European and Maghrebi Jews, Maghrebi Arabs and Berbers, sub-Saharan Africans, and Chinese. After World War II, large-scale immigration to France initially came mainly from southern Europe and subsequently from France’s former colonial possessions, especially North Africa. Other ethnic minorities from the French colonial empire - apart from North African Muslims - are the Indochinese and francophone sub-Saharan Africans.

Among European countries, France has the largest number of people of Muslim origin, perhaps 5–6 million, although some estimate only 2.6 million. The exact number of Muslims of different national origins living in France is not known, because the state does not collect religious or ethnic census data. The Muslim presence in France is of an earlier date than Muslim communities in Germany and the United Kingdom. More than 1 million Muslims immigrated in the 1960s and early 1970s from North Africa, especially Algeria.

France’s last census figures—for 1999—showed 4.33 million foreign nationals living in France, and every year a further 140,000 enter using legal channels, overwhelmingly family reunification. In addition, some 90,000 are believed to enter illegally every year, mainly by overstaying on short-term visas. The government believes there are between 200,000 and 400,000 “sans-papiers” — literally, “paperless ones.” Resisting calls to regularize their situation, the government has recently toughened its stance on immigration, for example, increasing the number of deportations, as well as the number of people refused asylum. In 2006 the government expects to make 26,000 repatriations.

The French Republic’s universalist model is based on the cherished principles of égalité and fraternité. Top officials deny that the country has a racism problem. France likes to see itself as color-blind, where citizens are expected to abide by a principle of universalism and identify with the nation over any ethnic or religious identity. In 2018, lawmakers voted to remove the word ‘race' from the French constitution and the government is not allowed to collect information about people's race or religion. But things are slowly changing. A report by the national ombudsman, an independent authority overseeing human rights in France, found that that young Arab and black men are 20 times more likely to be stopped than their white counterparts, confirming what activists had been decrying for years.

French police protested on 12 June 2020 against a ban on chokeholds and limits to what they can do during arrests, part of new government efforts to stem police brutality and systemic racism in the wake of global protests over George Floyd’s death in the United States and a reckoning in France over the 2016 death of Adama Traoré, who died in police custody.

While France famously doesn’t compile official statistics based on faith, ethnicity or skin color, racial discrimination in all spheres of public life has been widely documented, frequently overlapping with socio-economic inequality. Some trace the origins of France’s unspoken racism to the “contradiction” between the French Republic’s universalist principles and the reality of colonialism. Because slavery was illegal on the mainland, people in France have the impression that this hyper-racialised history that is characteristic of the modern world only concerns the Americas.

The intersecting social and racial disparities were glaringly exposed during the nationwide lockdown imposed in mid-March 2020 to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The immigrant-rich Seine-Saint-Denis department northeast of Paris – France’s poorest – accounted for a disproportionately high number of both fatalities from Covid-19 and fines handed out for breaching the lockdown rules. There are obvious reasons for this. The combination of large families in cramped quarters and a lack of doctors and hospital beds left the local population particularly exposed to the virus. And while many Parisians fled to countryside residences or switched to working from home, the capital’s poorer suburbs supplied most of the frontline workers who kept the metropolis running.

Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:06:05 Zulu