The situation of student parents in France

The spread of modern methods of contraception and the legalization of abortion generated strongly normed behaviour in France for timing child births: individuals determine a set of material conditions and emotional requirements that should be met before having their first child. Becoming a parent while studying thus seems socially unthinkable, and the French educational system today does not really take account the fact that some students are parents.

One student in twenty in France is a parent

The Conditions de vie des étudiants survey conducted in 2016 by the National Student Life Observatory (OVE) found that 4.5% of students—approximately 110,000 persons—have at least one child.

The proportion of parent-students in France is among the lowest in Europe. In Norway, for example, one-fourth of students have children. The differences by country are related to national educational systems, which vary considerably. In France, people usually begin higher education directly after secondary school, whereas in other countries people train at different times throughout their lives.

The proportion of parent-students is particularly high at university, in health fields, and in France’s major elite training institutions or study programmes. Students in these situations are older on average. Meanwhile, few parent-students are found in two-year post-secondary technical training programmes or in programmes preparing students to apply to an elite training institution.

While most students without children are between 19 and 24, the vast majority of parent-students are over 25. A considerable proportion of them have returned to school and had their children in other contexts (while working or unemployed). Overall, only 28% of this group became parents while enrolled in a study programme.

Most pregnancies that occur while studying are “unwanted”

In 2015, one-fourth of women having their first abortion were students (Mazuy, 2016). The OVE Student Health Survey (Ove 2016) found that young female students in particular did not want to be pregnant: only 7% of pregnancies among 20-year-olds were “wanted at that particular moment”. Of women students not wishing to be pregnant at the time, 58% report that having a child is not compatible with being a student, 53% that the material conditions for having a child were not in place, and 32% that their couple relationship was not stable enough to have a child. In these situations, the pregnancy was most often terminated by an abortion.

The considerable proportion of unwanted pregnancies among students raises the question of prevention: 21% of male students and 17% of female students did not use a condom during their first sexual intercourse; 9% of men and 4% of women say they did nothing to prevent pregnancy. The lack of preventive behaviour, more often found at the lower end of the social scale, produces a greater risk of unwanted pregnancy later in these people’s lives.

The daily life of student parents

14% of male and 25% of female student parents say that having a child led to at least a six-month break in their studies. We cannot observe all those who quit their studies upon learning of the pregnancy and did not return to them.

More student parents than non-student parents say they cannot attend classes, and the figure rises for parents who live with their child(ren), especially mothers: 16% of female students without children say they cannot attend all their courses as opposed to over one-third of student mothers (see Table). Most mothers say they cannot attend for family reasons (64%), whereas fathers say their absences are due to work (60%). Student parent absenteeism ultimately results in lower examination performance in an education system that does not really take account of the situation of this group of students.

Proportion of male and female students who cannot attend all their classes and their reasons (%) by sex and parental situation

Source: OVE, Conditions de vie des étudiant.e.s survey, 2016
Population: all students (with the exception of those who have dropped out)

Source: Arnaud Régnier-Loilier, 2017, Étudier et avoir des enfants. Contexte de survenue des grossesses et conséquences sur les études [FR], OVEINFOS n°36.
Contact: Arnaud Régnier-Loilier
Online: October 2017