Changes in the composition of the immigrant population in metropolitan France’s rural and peri-urban areas

Drawing on detailed data from France’s 1999 and 2015 population censuses, Julie Fromentin, a former PhD student at INED, analyzed how the composition of the immigrant population in rural and peri-urban areas of metropolitan France and in the country’s small towns evolved over that period. Together with immigrants’ geographical origins, her study took account of their social and demographic characteristics. In 2015, 2 million of the 36 million people living in these relatively sparsely populated areas were immigrants.

Profiles of immigrant populations in relatively sparsely populated areas

Julie Fromentin took into account immigrants’ age, employment status (working or not), household size and type, educational level, as well as their country of birth and date of arrival in France, thereby identifying the main sociodemographic structures of the immigrant population in these areas. Individuals were grouped together by social and demographic characteristics: older immigrants, retirees and persons without formal education belonging to early waves of European labor immigration; Northern and Western European immigrants, higher education graduates living in immigrant couples and households; young, recently arrived immigrants living alone in unstable occupational situations; and others.

While the first of these groups was quite large in both 1999 and 2015, other groups shrank considerably during the period—namely Southern European immigrant manual (or other low-skilled) workers in mixed households; uneducated, non-working immigrants from Turkey and North Africa living in large mixed households. They were replaced by more diverse groups, such as young, educated, recently arrived immigrants in mixed households and precarious occupational positions.

Social-spatial dynamics of immigrants living in relatively sparsely populated areas of metropolitan France

The immigrant population in Eastern France and Corsica in both 1999 and 2015 was composed of low-skilled workers in precarious situations, reflecting the type of economic activity in these areas, still mainly based on a low-skilled foreign labor force. 

In some areas of Northeastern France, on the other hand, a considerable change in social composition occurred between 1999 and 2015 due to immigrant population aging and the diversification dynamics operative in the French countryside. 

Rural areas in Île-de-France also underwent major transformations and showed greater social diversity in 2015, a change linked to the continued urbanization of the greater Paris region, the rise of the service sector, and selective moves and departures. 

In Western France, meanwhile, we find a dual dynamic: an increased number of British and Dutch retirees from 1999 together with immigrant profile diversification, especially the recent arrival of young immigrants, among whom higher education graduates are overrepresented. 

In the Southwest (Dordogne and part of the Limousin area), Northern and Western European retirees and skilled workers are overrepresented. 

Parts of Southern and Central France are the most heterogeneous; immigrant profile diversification in those areas reflects a wide variety of specific local dynamics. 

Source: Julie Fromentin, 2022, Des configurations géographiques en mouvement : l’immigration dans les espaces peu denses français, Cybergeo: European Journal of Geography: document-1037

Online: September 2023