Why French Women Are Having More Babies Than Anyone Else In Europe

Several countries in Europe have experienced serious population declines in response to economic crisis, but French women have the highest fertility rate of any country in Europe. And this is while they maintain healthy careers and two-income households — so it isn't as simple as working less to make more time for childcare. In fact, as demographer Richard Jackson told Science of Us, women actually have more babies the more they work: "The more traditionalist a culture is about gender roles, the fewer babies people have."

If you think about it from a financial perspective, this actually makes sense: the healthier your career, the more money you have to dedicate to child-rearing, should you so choose. But the French are uniquely set up to thrive professionally while having babies and raising children. French women are guaranteed 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, with 26 weeks for their third child. They are also paid an allowance by the government for each child they have, with a slightly higher allowance for their third child. In fact, an estimated 2.6 percent of the French GDP was budgeted for family support in 2014.


France also offers state-sponsored childcare, funded up to 80 percent by the government, with trained caretakers who are paid better than child-care service providers in the United States. Nannies are also required to be licensed, though, in French culture, group daycare is embraced as a crucial element of a child's socialization. Daycares in France provide meals for children, unlike in the States, and healthcare there is virtually free. Not to mention the fact that French folks get five weeks of vacation time a year with 25 paid vacation days, which only increases access to quality self-care.

As The Cut's Laura June writes:

"The point is that it’s not a huge f*cking surprise that French parents are happier than American ones. Of course they have time to present a vegetable to a child ten or 20 times before giving up and cracking out the Goldfish crackers... Their government supports them. They live in a country that has accepted the reality that most people eventually have children, and then continue to work outside the home."

We can extend this idea to the recent revelation that there's "no ADD" in France. It's also no surprise, then, that France enjoys 2.01 births per women — the closest of any country in Europe to the 2.1 rate recommended by statisticians in developed countries to maintain population replacement. It is the only country in its area to maintain a high and stable birthrate since 2006, although it has a much longer history with baby-positive legislation. For centuries, France has believed in the idea that a high population translates to a strong and stable economy. So both liberal and conservative lawmakers there have been invested in championing policies that bolster their population growth, even if it means transcending traditional gender roles.

Images: Ekaterina Pokrovsky/Fotolia