Frenchwomen are to be given generous cash payments to encourage them to have a third child, writes John Ballantyne. The intended result? Larger families.
Middle-class Frenchwomen are to be given generous cash payments to encourage them to have a third child.
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin announced his Government’s new package of incentives on September 22 to a national family policy summit that brought together business leaders, trade unionists, public servants and family activists.
The new measures, designed to maintain France’s population, include:
- €750 (A$1,190) a month for any parent who stops work to care for a third child.
- The doubling of the maximum tax deduction for parents who employ home help for children under six.
- The tax cut for a third child to be double that for the first two.
- Child allowance to be €115 (A$183) a month for two children, but €262 (A$417) a month for a third child.
- The pension for couples with three or more children to be raised by 10 per cent.
- Railways ticket prices to be reduced by up to three-quarters for families with three or more children.
- Mothers with modest incomes to get a €826 (A$1,314) bonus for each new child, and smaller monthly payments until the child’s third birthday and help with childcare.
- Universal nursery education from age three.
France’s National Union of Family Associations (known by its French acronym, UNAF) has played a leading role lobbying for these changes, arguing for more generous financial assistance for mothers with three children.
Its president, Hubert Brin, who headed a government-commissioned study on France’s demographic future, has warned that even France’s comparatively high birth-rate would not prevent the population shrinking.
One of the problems France has faced is that middle-class and professional women have been postponing the age at which they start their families (last year the average age was 29.6), and leaving a longer interval between pregnancies (now nearly four years between the first and second child). As a result, few of these women have had more than two children.
The Government hopes that 100,000 French couples will take advantage of the new package in its first year.
Although the scheme’s cost will stretch the Government’s deficit-wracked finances, Hubert Brin has defended spending on young children as “spending on the future”.
The package, which is targeted at middle-class and professional couples, has been attacked by France’s socialist opposition as unfairly favouring the rich. But Brin has said that France’s previous family assistance “appeals only to those on lower incomes”.
“This is not just a French problem,” he says, “but affects Europe in general. In Germany, as many as 40 per cent of professional women turn their backs on maternity.
“Ask a professional woman these days to make a definite choice between having a career and having babies and she’ll choose the former.”
Across the 25-nation European Union, the average birthrate has fallen to an average of around 1.5 children per woman – far short of the minimum 2.1 children needed to prevent a decline in population without immigration.
Birthrates are as low as 1.3 in some countries, such as Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece and new EU member nations in Eastern Europe where birthrates plummeted after the collapse of communism.
In a report in March, the EU’s head office warned that “never in history has there been economic growth without population growth”.
France in recent years has had a surprisingly buoyant birthrate of 1.9 (second only to Ireland’s 2.0). But this owes much to poorer families of Middle Eastern and African origin who generally have far more children than white French couples.
France has the largest Muslim community in Europe, making up something close to 10 per cent of its 60 million population.
Barbara Amiel, writing in Britain’s Daily Telegraph (January 21, 2004), said:
“France is facing the problem that dare not speak its name. Though French law prohibits the census from any reference to ethnic background or religion, many demographers estimate that as much as 20 [to] 30 per cent of the population under 25 is now Muslim. The streets, the traditional haunt of younger people, now belong to Muslim youths …
“Given current birth rates, it is not impossible that in 25 years France will have a Muslim majority. The consequences are dynamic: is it possible that secular France might become an Islamic state?”
France’s recent pro-family financial package is only the latest in 60 years of government measures to promote more French births.
For many years French families with children have enjoyed special tax advantages.
Maternity leave, on near full pay, ranges from 20 weeks for the first child to a generous 40 or more for a third.
- John Ballantyne
Barbara Amiel, “Is France on the way to becoming an Islamic state?”, The Daily Telegraph (UK), January 26, 2004.
Colin Randall, “Middle-class French mothers will be paid to start le baby boom”, The Daily Telegraph (UK), September 20, 2005.
John Leicester, “France boosts incentives for having kids”, The Guardian (UK), September 21, 2005.
Jon Henley, “France plans to pay cash for more babies”, The Guardian (UK), September 22, 2005.
Charles Bremner, “Middle class offered baby bonus”, The Times (UK), September 23, 2005.