Family policy in France

The contribution of France’s set of family policies to the country’s healthy fertility rate is once again in the spotlight in two recently published reports. The first is the latest opinion of France’s Haut Conseil à la Famille, to which INED is an advisory institution. The second is an OECD comparative overview of aid-to-families policies across Europe and respective policy outcomes in terms of fertility support, aid to parents in reconciling work and family life, and the fight against poverty.
According to the OECD study, France is in a favorable position in several dimensions of family and working life:

  • the country’s fertility rate is much higher than the OECD average and is among the rates coming closest to the 2.1 children per woman level necessary for generation replacement;
  • the employment rate for women aged 25 to 54 is 76.6%, also higher than average, and nearly 80% of these women have full-time jobs;
  • child poverty is far below the OECD average of 12.75%, at 8% of children aged 0 to 17, though it has risen slightly in recent years;
  • these "positive" results go hand in hand with France’s major investment in families throughout childhood. The country spends more on early childhood and adolescence than most OECD countries (see figure below).

Per-child expenditures for each period studied

Despite these highly positive results, women’s access to employment in France remains highly dependent on their family situation:

  • a majority of French mothers seem to be successfully reconciling work and family responsibilities: 60% of mothers of children under 17 were working in 2007-a figure that corresponds to the OECD average;
  • mothers of children under 3 years of age are less likely to be working; here the figure is 53%, also equivalent to the OECD average;
  • however, only 38% of mothers with three or more children are working-below the OECD average of 44%.

This suggests that the assistance made available for reconciling work and family life can still be improved. In this connection, the Haut Conseil à la Famille has called for developing a range of childcare options that will give families greater freedom of choice. The OECD report is in agreement with this assessment and furthermore suggests that a better balance between work and family life seems attainable only if household tasks are more equally shared by mothers and fathers: in countries where women’s employment rates are high, men participate more in housework. The parental leave scheme could be reformed in this direction by determining a leave period that cannot be transferred to the other spouse or partner and guaranteeing higher financial compensation rates than in the current system. More fathers could be encouraged to take paternity leave. Moreover, given that the living conditions of large or single-parent families may approach or fall below the poverty line if only one parent is working or when a parent is on parental leave, a reform along these lines would more effectively protect families from poverty. The OECD, the Haut Conseil à la Famille and now INSEE have made similar findings: INSEE has indicated a rising risk of poverty for single-parent families, a risk to which large families too will increasingly be exposed in the future, according to the Haut Conseil à la Famille.

Contact: Olivier Thévenon

Online: May 2011