Demographic Report from the High Commissioner for Planning

On 12 May, the High Commissioner for Planning in France, François Bayrou, issued a report on demography as being “fundamental to preserving our social model”.

The post of High Commissioner for Planning was recently created in September 2020 and assigned to François Bayrou. He is responsible for coordinating the planning and analysis of reflective work carried out on behalf of the State, which is intended to help public authorities make informed choices regarding demographic, economic, social, environmental, health, technological and cultural issues.

In the report’s lengthy introduction, Bayrou cites three dimensions of demographics: at the intersection between personal and family choices, as part of a national community and its’ impact on an international equilibrium. The report especially highlights the situation in France, where at the end of WWII, the choice was made to base its’ society on the principle of ‘all for one’. Thus, in the preamble to the 1946 constitution it is stated that “The Nation shall ensure that the individual and the family have the necessary conditions for their development”. This applies to pension systems, with the emblematic choice of distributing pension funds rather than encouraging savings and capitalization, and to the health system, unemployment services and even education. This choice leads to very high public expenditures compared to other countries. But the corollary is, according to the so-called “Gini index” (indicator of income inequality), and other measurements, that France has a good rating when it comes to providing economic and social protection to those in need.

Bayrou’s report presents a dynamic demography, in particular the ratio between active and non-active individuals, as the stronghold for this social system where allotments and distribution are important.

On a national basis, the report also highlights the disparity between regular opinion polls showing that the French wish to have more children, and the decline in fertility. Surveys continue to demonstrate that “the French continue to want three children although in recent years, the average is a little less than two.”

In a related report, the “INED” (National Institute of Demographic Studies) points out, that due to positive intentions regarding fertility there is a tendancy to over estimate the behaviour with regards to fertility. In other words, the intention to have a child is not materialised in real life, due to many factors mentioned in the report, such as “single-parent” families and having to balance personal, professional and family life. Although the French fertility rate,  is below the generational replacement level (2.10), it is among the highest in Europe at 1.89 in 2018. But in the long term, this level cannot balance the expeditures of the social protection system.

Part of the report deals with comparative demographic trends, where France possibly appears as the most fertile country in an ageing Europe.

The report recommends that public authorities use two leverages: a policy for encouraging higher birth rates, and immigration. Regarding the latter point, which is discussed at length, the report points out that immigration does not account for the relative dynamics of French demographics. It calls for immigration to be considered politically, and emphasizes the integration and cohesion challenges for society.

Also addressed is the current Malthusian-sounding theme “population versus the planet”, promoted by slogans such as “Ginks” (Green inclination no kids). The report gives two reasons for overlooking such belief. The first one is the relatively small impact of France’s 70 million inhabitants compared to a world population projected at 10 billion in 2050. The second one deals with the shifting horizons of climate change and demographics. Climate issues are projected for 20 to 30 years ahead whereas demographic trends have a further impact and are difficult to reverse as can be observed for example in some Asian countries.

Thus, when China announced the official end of the birth restriction policy, on October 29, 2015, there was not much impact on natality, as reported by an AFP dispatch on February 9th, based on data from the Chinese Ministry of Public Security. In 2020, China’s birth rate continued to decline to 10,04 million births, representing a 14,8 % drop compared to 2019.

Over the Alps, the General States of Birth held in Rome expressed some concern about the demographic trends. The. Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, announced the implementation of an allowance, similar to the French family allowances. Pope Francis, present at the event, declared that a “society that does not welcome life, stops living” and that it is necessary to “give stability to the structures that support and promote families and new births”.

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