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France could lose EU top spot as birth rates decline

FRANCE’S wave of high birthrates could be coming to an end, according to the latest figures.

With an average 1.9 babies per couple, the country has had the highest fecundity rate in Europe since 2013. However figures for this year from the national statistics agency INSEE show that the birthrate in the first nine months of 2015 was lower than that of previous years.

Roughly 569,000 babies were born this year up until the cut-off point of September, while during the same period in 2014 the figure was 584,879.

Furthermore, in 2013 it was 581,976 and in 2012 it hit 589,407. The birthrate for 2015 is the lowest since 1999 and a number of theories have been put forward for its decline.

One key contributor is the economy. While other countries suffering high unemployment such as Greece, Portugal and Spain, have seen fecundity decline since the global financial crisis of 2008, France, until now, bucked the trend.

Gilles Pison, head of research at population statistics body INED, says French policies to help families – politique familiale – had offset some negative effects economic uncertainty tends to have on birth rates.

“In other countries couples will tend to delay having children when unemployment is high but in France the effect of unemployment is less important than in countries like Spain and Greece.

“The politique familiale works as a kind of ‘shock absorber’, providing a range of measures to help families and encourage people not to delay childbirth. People here are less afraid to have children because of the support they get.”

Under French law larger families are entitled to reductions in income tax and benefits that are paid according to the number of children (allocation familiale).

Mr Pison said the politique familiale dated back almost a century and had been largely shaped by both world wars.

“There is a perception that France lost the war against Germany [in 1940] because of a lack of able-bodied young men to serve in its army,” he said.

As a result of this and the huge casualties suffered during the First World War, French policy has sought to sustain population growth ever since.

Nor does he believe the politique familiale would be affected by a shift of government to the right and any resulting spending cuts.

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