Fewer births in France in 2016

Press release Published on 06 March 2017

In France, the number of births and the total fertility rate have declined in recent years, and life expectancy has increased more slowly than in the past. Gilles Pison explains these variations and examines the new long-term trends they bring to light.

Between 2014 and 2016 the number of women of reproductive age in metropolitan France fell by 1%, and their mean number of children (or total fertility rate) by 4%, from 1.97 to 1.89.  These combined factors produced a 5% decrease in the total number of births.

The number of women of childbearing age reflects the number of births observed some three decades previously.  It has nothing to do with the crisis and the high unemployment rate in France since 2008, unlike childbearing behaviours which may be affected by the economic climate. However, the fertility decline in France – less than 3.5% between 2008 and 2015 – is much smaller than in most other developed countries.  Over the same period, it fell by 12% in the United States (from 2.08 children per woman to 1.84).  In the United Kingdom likewise, it fell by 7% (from 1.96 to 1.82).  The limited extent of the decline in France can probably be attributed to the social and family policies that absorbed the shock of the crisis.

After a decrease in 2015, life expectancy at birth increased sharply in 2016, reaching 79.4 years for males and 85.4 years for females, versus 79.0 years and 85.1 years, respectively, in 2015. This represents an increase of 0.4 years for men and 0.3 years for women.  But this is simply a return to the levels of 2014, when life expectancy stood at 79.3 years for men and 85.4 years for women. As the effects of seasonal flu epidemics vary considerably year on year, it is difficult to identify a clear trend in life expectancy.  After factoring out these variations, the increase appears to be slowing since 2012.  This trend could be confirmed in 2017, since the year began with a flu epidemic even more deadly than that of 2015.