The demograpy of France’s overseas departments (DOMs), 2011

Differences with metropolitan France


On January 1, 2011, the population of France was estimated at 65 million inhabitants, 1.9 million (2.9%) of whom live in the country’s four overseas departments or DOMs (Départements d’Outre-Mer). These figures do not include Mayotte, which became France’s fifth overseas department on March 31, 2011:



  • Reunion is the most heavily populated DOM (44% of the total overseas French population); Guadeloupe and Martinique each represent 22%; French Guiana accounts for only 12%.
  •  The population of the DOMS is increasing faster than that of metropolitan France: the growth rate in 2010 was 11.2 per 1,000, as against 5.4 per 1,000 in "the metropolis."
  •  The rate of natural increase is high because the age structure is relatively young: one-third of the DOM population is under 20 years of age, as against one-fourth in metropolitan France; half the population is under 35 whereas the median age in the metropolis is close to 40
  • The shape of the DOM age pyramid is highly characteristic: it narrows abruptly at around age 30, reflecting the fact that approximately one-third of the population native to the DOMs aged 20-35 lives in metropolitan France. This applies in particular to the most highly educated, as many young adults travel to metropolitan France to pursue their studies and to seek employment.

Higher, earlier fertility

  • Fertility is higher in the DOMs than in metropolitan France. In 2010 the rate was 2.4 children per woman throughout the DOMs as against 2.0 in the metropolis. While fertility in Guadeloupe and Martinique today is close to what it is in continental France (respectively 2.2 and 2.1 children per woman in 2008), this is not the case in Reunion (2.5 children per woman) and even less so in French Guiana (approximately 3.6 children per woman). Nonetheless, Reunion is fairly close to metropolitan standards: in 2008, eight metropolitan departments had fertility rates ranging from 2.2 to 2.4 children per woman.
  •  The DOMs’ overall higher fertility is explained first and foremost by sharply higher fertility at young ages: up until age 23, fertility among women in the DOMs is at least twice as high as in metropolitan France (Figure). The average age at motherhood for the DOMs taken together was 28.5 years in 2010, as against 30 years in metropolitan France. Women in the DOMs often have their first child before age 20, whereas this is increasingly rare on the continent. Motherhood at a young age is particularly frequent in French Guiana and Reunion, where the average age (all births) is nearly 28, though this value is comparable to the one found for three departments in metropolitan France (Aisne, Ardennes and Pas-de-Calais).
  • Another particularity of the DOMs is that more than three-fourths of births in 2010 were outside marriage (77%), as against slightly over half in the metropolis (54%). French Guiana has the highest percentage: 88%. Reunion is once again closer to metropolitan departments, with 72% of births outside marriage (67% in the departments of Cantal and Lot in 2010).

More frequent recourse to abortion in the DOMs

Abortion use is sharply higher in the DOMs than in metropolitan France: the overall abortion rate (an average of 27.8 per 1,000 women ages 15-49 over the period 2005-2009) is almost twice as high as in the metropolis (14.6 per 1,000). However, there is great disparity among the DOMs: abortion frequency in Guadeloupe is around twice as high as in Reunion, which for its part shows a frequency comparable to certain metropolitan departments.

Slightly higher mortality

  • Infant mortality also is at least twice as high in the DOMs: in 2005-2009 the average rate was 8.4 deaths of children under age one for 1,000 births, as against 3.6 in metropolitan France. The gap has widened in recent years, since infant mortality has not fallen at all in the DOMs in the last ten years. French Guiana has the highest rate (11.9 per 1,000 in 2005-2009); rates in the other three overseas departments range from 7.2 per 1,000 (Reunion) to 8.6 per 1,000 (Martinique). No metropolitan department shows such high figures.
  • Life expectancy at birth has risen regularly in the last ten years and at the same pace as in metropolitan France. In the DOMs overall the average is approximately 2 years lower for men (74.9 years on average in 2004-2008, as against 77.1 in continental France) and women (82.2 and 84.2 respectively). Longevity is highest in Martinique (76.8 years for men and 83.7 for women in 2004-2008), lowest for men in Reunion (a life expectancy of 73.8 years) and for women in French Guiana (81.0 years). Many French metropolitan departments show life expectancy values similar to and even below those for the overseas departments; in Pas-de-Calais, for example, male life expectancy at birth (73.5 years in 2004-2008) is slightly below that in Reunion.

Source: Magali Mazuy, France Prioux, Magali Barbieri, 2011, Recent Demographic Developments in France: Some Differences between Overseas Departments and Metropolitan France, Ined, Population-E, 66 (3-4), 423-472
Contact: Magali Mazuy, Claude-Valentin Marie
Online: April 2012