Why France is such a great place to have a large family
European countries are failing to produce enough children to keep their population size constant – but France is the exception. Mum-of-five Gillian Harvey says it’s because big families are so well looked after here
According to data released by Eurostat, France has the highest fertility rate (1.96) in Europe, making it the closest of the European nations to reaching the magical fertility number of 2.1 (the average number required to replace the population).
As a mother of five, I like to think of myself as having made a pretty decent contribution to the population of the small town in Limousin I inhabit. And whilst my own family plans were not based on the facilities or benefits available here, I have certainly found France a wonderful place to raise my family.
For a start, children – who are often seen as a nuisance in the UK – are actively embraced here, with friends and strangers alike taking the time to stop and talk to each of my little ones when we walk into the town. My large brood is often greeted with phrases like “Bon travail” (good work), not the “Rather you than me” and “Good luck!” I’ve been subjected to in England.
French social occasions are also very family-focused, meaning youngsters form an important part of many social gatherings. This reduces the feelings of isolation that parents of young children can sometimes experience.
And whilst kids still cost a fortune to raise, the (non means-tested) child benefit of close to €200 per child per month eclipses the amount handed over by Britain (£20.70 per week for the first child; £13.70 for the second). In addition, families are given a ‘passport’ on a yearly basis, with discounts on play-schemes and sporting activities for children, meaning parents have options to keep them entertained during the summer.
Many families also benefit from the Vacaf voucher, which gifts a discount of up to 70% on selected holidays within the country to families who meet certain financial criteria.
France is also great for work and family balance – with the local crèche offering a great programme of activities with childcare specialists. Plus, this care is heavily subsidised; meaning some families pay as little as 50 cents an hour. Childminders (nou-nous) also come at a discount, and, during my last pregnancy we hired a nanny three days a week, for which we were partially reimbursed through our tax return.
More than anything, however, it is the warmth and good humour with which children are greeted and their status within the community that I feel encourages parents to procreate more readily en France.