Laurent Toulemon

INED senior researcher Laurent Toulemon tells us about recent fertility trends in France and compares them with those in other OECD countries. 

Partial transcript of Laurent Toulemon speaking to France’s Social Affairs Commission on the Effects of Demographic Developments on the Social Protection System, May 17, 2023.

Should we be worried about the recent fall in fertility in France?

[8’50”15] The number of births has not changed much in the last fifty years; that is, since the end of the baby boom. Periods of rising births have alternated with periods showing lower numbers. The fall in fertility has become more marked in the last five years, despite the fact that trends were interrupted in several countries by the COVID-19 crisis. Still, for the last approximately fifty years, the number of births in France has been nearly constant, at between 735,000 and 835,000 per year. The current fertility rate—1.80 children per women in 2022—is fairly low but remains within the range of what we have seen these last 50 years: between 1.68 and 2.03 children per woman (the lower figure in 1994; the higher in 2010).

[8’52’’40] Today’s fertility rate in France is fairly high by international comparison, and the long-term dynamic is positive: INSEE’s demographic projections for 2070 do show a fall in population but a moderate one. According to the medium scenario, France’s population, which stood at 67.4 million in 2020, is expected to peak at 69.3 million in 2044 before dipping back down to 68.1 million in 2070. Projections for many European countries lead to much stronger demographic effects.  

[8’56’’00] Despite the fact that a fall in fertility of approximately 7% was observed in early 2023 compared to the same months in 2022, fertility in France is not that low, and the decrease is not sharp. We may yet reach a level on the order of 1.7 children per woman for 2023—significantly higher than in other European countries. And the decrease may not persist. 

What impact do economic crises have on fertility in France?

[8’51’’32] The 2008 economic crisis brought about a considerable fall in births in many OECD countries. Countries where fertility had been high saw decreases from 2010. But the decrease in France was moderate and occurred later. 

[8’53’’50] In early 2021, many countries showed a substantial fall in number of births 9 months after their first lockdown. But in the following months of that same year a rise in births was observed. This was either a catch up effect or a cocooning effect once the initial shock of the epidemic was over, the latter among people whose economic situation had not gotten too much worse or in the opposite category: people who found themselves unemployed. In 2022, a number of countries—Germany, Japan, and Sweden—experienced a sudden, substantial fall in number of births. 

[8’55’’20] Demographers have found it difficult to connect that fall with socioeconomic developments. But for the Swedish and German demographer authors of a recent publication, it is likely related to vaccination policies. In those countries, people were informed that it was preferable to get vaccinated before getting pregnant. The fertility fall they have seen could therefore be related to cautionary behavior around pregnancy and the wait for boosters. People in France were not given any specific information about a risk of getting vaccinated during pregnancy and the country did not experience any decrease conceptions linked to vaccination or booster campaigns. Fertility decreased less in France in 2022 than in Sweden, Germany, or Japan. 

Do policies supporting women’s employment have a favorable effect on fertility?

[8’57’’25] The effects of social and family policies are difficult to measure. Since 2014 there have been changes made to French family allowances policy that have directly affected high-income families. But fertility has fallen in all social categories and is not lower for more privileged families; lower family allowances have not led them to revise the number of children they want. However, there may have been a halo effect: people not concerned by those measures may have feared they would be affected later by other ones. Still, such fears are very hard to measure over the long term. The most reliable explanation for differences in fertility by country is the existence of stable family policy enabling couples to have two incomes and mothers to go back to work quickly after having a child without their career prospects suffering too much. This is the situation in France. 

Complete hearing

More information:

Human Fertility database. Short-term fertility fluctuations

Didier Breton, Nicolas Belliot, Magali Barbieri et al., 2022, Recent Demographic Trends in France. Ongoing Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic at Both Regional and National Levels, Population (English Edition) 77: 503-580

Les naissances par mois en 2021, 2022 et 2023, Insee

Bujard, Martin, Andersson, Gunnar (2022), “Fertility declines near the end of the COVID-19 pandemic: Evidence of the 2022 birth declines in Germany and Sweden”. BiB Working Paper 6/2022.