02 January 2013

Population growth

The news this morning is that the French population is growing much faster than in any other European country. France has added a million and a half inhabitants over the past four years, the news report says. To me, that's not necessarily a good thing, but the authorities in France announce population growth with pride.

It's always been like this — or at least since the early 1970s, when I started spending time in France. While many people around the globe warn that our planet can't support such huge populations, France encourages large families by giving them government subsidies of various kinds. Couples are rewarded for having more children.

Life in the country has become more attractive and more comfortable.

Back in the 1970s, the French population was growing slowly. The country was impoverished by war in the 1940s, inflation and political instability in the 1950s, and then the oil crises of the early 1970s. Since the 1980s, the situation has reversed itself. I'm not sure people are having larger families, but I know that more young couples are deciding to have children. Some see that as a sign of confidence in the future of the country.

A new day dawning?

The French make up a very small percentage of the world population. Compared to the U.S., Brazil, China, and even Russia, France is not a large country. The population is now approaching 65 million — on a territory that's just slightly smaller than the state of Texas (pop. 26 million). French people are proud to see their numbers growing. At least that's the way the media and the authorities see it. If France declines, so does the French language and French civilization.

The hours of daylight are short here in winter, but when the sun comes out and
temperatures are mild, out in the country is a pretty nice place to be.

In France, the population is growing especially in Brittany and in the south, near the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. People want to live in warmer climates, and near the coasts. The northeastern part of the country is not growing as much. Paris continues to attract new residents, but the areas that are really growing are the villages and small towns that are fairly close to large cities.

The conveniences of modern life without the traffic and noise...

I put Saint-Aignan in that category. We are not very far from Blois or from Tours, where there are employment opportunities. Now there's an autoroute (a toll road) that you can take to get to Tours in 30 minutes or less, for example, without traffic jams for now. There are local trains that are in the process of becoming commuter lines, like the ones from Saint-Aignan to Tours.

Mobility is the issue — a jet flies over Saint-Aignan.

In the country, people can afford larger houses and they can have yards and gardens. A lot of new houses are being built, and a lot of older houses are up for sale as the older population dies off. For generations, rural areas in France steadily lost population to the cities. Now that nearly everybody can have a car, a telephone, a satellite television, and a high-speed internet connection, the sense of isolation in the countryside has diminished, and the old trend has been reversed.


  1. There doesn't seem to be much growth in the South West away from the big cities of Toulouse and Bordeaux. Even the larger places like Auch have been constant to stagnating in population for decades.

    While there is appeal in the non-industrial landscape for many expats, it's probably less appealing for the youth that there is so little infrastructure or potential employment out of the retail or agrarian sectors.

    I'd hazard a guess that in many towns it's only the expat money that has kept them stagnating completely.

  2. I think that the heart of France remains almost steady... some areas, like near the new A85, can be seen to be getting new growth... and administrative towns like Loches are slowly expanding... but move slightly away from these centres and you get places like Tournon St. Martin... compared with when we first came the town is in its death throes... the quarry closed because SNCF wanted at least 15 trucks per train to run the line to Descartes. And here in Le Grand Pressigny, the town has provided land for expansion... but there are currently no takers... Le GP has "grown" by 3 in the last ten years... to me that is static! Especially as Mike [above] says it is expats [including from Paris] that has kept them static. Our Tabac has increased it's range of UK papers and magazines six-fold in these ten years...

  3. My impression is that young couples who grew up here but went off to uni and started their careers in the big cities are now returning when they marry and want to have children. They want the children to have the life they had. They are tending to buy the old homes and restore them because you get a lot of building for your buck and it is now possible to sympathetically modernise these buildings whilst retaining their character. It is the retirees who are opting for the newer builds -- down sizing, reducing their maintenance etc. They don't generally want the hassle of buying a plot and building though -- they'll go for an existing but relatively new house. The new building plots in Preuilly also seem to have no takers, yet Yzeures has expanded significantly in the last few years. Local people put that down to the supermarket, but that doesn't make much sense to me.

  4. I think I can see how being fairly close to a supermarket could make a big difference. I know we didn't really want to live too far from a town with all the normal services when we moved here 10 years ago.

    The Sud Touraine, with all its charm and beauty, is a depressed area, when you look at it objectively.

    One thing about the growth and new building around Saint-Aignan and up and down the Cher is that there aren't any gigantic subdivisions so far. A few houses here, a few houses there — that kind of building.

  5. I credit yours and Walt's blog with the increased desire to move to the French countryside. You make life there seem near-idyllic and the photos always make me long to move their and be your neighbors.

    I have tried to live my life as happily as can be and make home wherever we are together, but it is hard not to be a bit envious of your locale.

    Thanks for giving us a glimpse and taste. Please warn me if you two decide to start having children ;-P

  6. my daughter & son-in-law(who just had my grandson, Hugo, by the way) live in paris but want to move somewhere more affordable....probably somewhere with more sun too....and would be nice to have a yard since they have a dog & cat...they initially were looking at Nice, then Aix, then Montpellier but have moved further west and are thinking now maybe Bordeaux, as there may be some job possibilities for an english speaker in the area wine industry...they say there are more individual houses there within walking distance to town, and they like the location near the atlantic and the pyrenees....and probably not overrun with tourists or students like the places along the med.

  7. Sean, at 64 (sooon) I'm too far gone to think about having children. Besides, Walt grew up as the oldest of 8, so he's had children up to... well, wherever. Our locale, by the way, would not please everyone, I'm sure. But we do enjoy it. Happy New Year to you and J.

    Melinda, sounds like a good plan they've got. I think a lot of younger people are thinking that way in France.

  8. Happy New Year -- I skipped the internet yesterday.
    When we were having our babies in the late 70s and early 80s, the public policy to encourage babies was in full swing. The public motivation was (and to some extent, still is) that one needed working population to sustain the growing retired population. Paul and I weren't really concerned with the public policy, but we enjoyed having babies and finally put a stop to it at 4.
    The thing is, it's easy here. I went to the hospital and the pre-natal care and delivery were free. We did have childcare expenses, but it wasn't prohibitive for one. Our second came close on the heels of the first, so I ended up putting my career on hold. After the second, we got "allocations familiales", which was not a lot of money, but meant that the babies were not really a hardship. And with the third, we got an extra child exemption for our income tax and a much greater "allocation". There was a big incentive to push families into the "famille nombreuse" category. Even parents got the 1/2 fare SNCF and RATP rates! As I said, we didn't really take all that into account in our decision to have 4 kids, but we certainly do not regret having had the financial help.
    So, aside from restaurants, France is a very child-friendly country. And even restaurants are more welcoming than they used to be, especially if they see you have taught your children how to behave themselves.

  9. Ellen, happy new year to you too ... and you two. Your comment is interesting and informative. I wonder if the French government still gives out those allocations familiales.

  10. Oh yes! You start getting allocations familiales with the second child, no matter what your income level is. There are other allocations that are dependent on income (or lack thereof), but not the allocations familiales. I'm no longer up to date about the extra boost in the quotient familiale for taxes. A couple counts as 2 parts (logical); children 1 & 2 count as 1/2 part, each; child 3 (at least back in our day) count as a full part. That is, or was, the boost. As the children come of age, they get dropped from your allocations familiales, of course. You lose the Carte de Famille Nombreuse. You lose the tax benefits.
    The allocations familiales are not added into your taxable income and there has been much debate about doing away with that so that the families with high incomes would essentially hand it back in the form of higher income taxes, but the proposition has never made it into an electoral platform, never into a proposed law! I keep wondering when they'll finally do it. It's a logical step, to me. I'm half-listening to C Dans l'Air as I type and this happens to be exactly what they are discussing!

  11. "France encourages large families by giving them government subsidies of various kinds. Couples are rewarded for having more children." France seems to be getting more stupid by the hour!

  12. "France encourages large families by giving them government subsidies of various kinds. Couples are rewarded for having more children." France seems to be getting more stupid by the hour!

  13. In New Zealand we have four million people and have to endure endless economists and similar saying we need more. But have actually no logical argument why. Maybe some idea that bigger is more business. However the evidence is that the costs of providing for that growth leave each of us worse off. There is a growing view that we would benefit economically with fewer people. That's an interesting view seeing it comes from an economic perspective and not just the ecological one. Which of course is well represented as well.


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