An analysis of the demographic changes shows a constant decline of the balance between births and deaths in France over the last 10 years and a marked increase in the old age population which require an all-embracing approach.
Decline in the balance of births over deaths and increase in the ageing population
INED (French Institute for Demographic Studies) in its bulletin for March 2023 highlighted the repercussions of the sanitary crisis on births and deaths. Although births were affected during 2021, they have enjoyed some recovery since. Concerning deaths, the Covid epidemic occurred in the context of five consecutive years of “lethal seasonal flu”. This phenomenon affected the increase in life expectancy which has tended to stagnate at 79.3 years for men and 85.2 years for women in 2022 within the context of the general decline observed since 1994.
The population in France increased by 217,000 in 2022, a quarter through the natural balance between births and deaths and three quarters through the balance of incoming over outgoing migration. In 10 years, the natural balance has dropped from 251,000 to 56,000. A double phenomenon has combined: a definite fall in the number of births since 2014 with a gradual increase in the number of deaths which is expected to increase over the next 20 years with the arrival of the numerous generations of the baby boom years. The first members of that generation will reach 80 years of age from 2030.
A lack of anticipation in providing for the ageing population
The law on old age and autonomy has been deferred by successive presidents over the last 15 years. As one of the participants stated at the Seniors and Society symposium which was held in Paris on 21st March 2023, “the urgency is no longer for thought but for action”. The stakes are multiple: adaptation of housing, mobilisation of social lessors, appeal and training for jobs in geriatric care, coordination of the many public and private players, transport, diversified availability of home care services or protected accommodation, sanitary prevention etc. In 2019, the Libault report on old age and autonomy, requested by the Prime Minister summarised the stakes.
Alliance VITA have listed the measures taken since 2020. These efforts are to be praised but they need to be included within an all-embracing and long term policy which all the players are calling for.
However how can a policy for old age and ageing be tenable without considering the overall demographic challenges?
For an overall approach to the challenges
Demography is at the very heart of the challenges for French society as stated in the report on demographic stakes by the High Commission for the Plan published in 2021. It pleads for a “national pact” in order to save the French social model, and among its objectives calls for “having more children”. Especially as this matches the wishes of the French population, as revealed in the latest survey by UNAF (National Union of Family Associations). Among the factors impeding the fulfilment of the desire for children, are the material and financial difficulties of families preventing them from expanding (challenge of finding a stable job, a fixed and decent abode, etc.). There is also the difficult balance between private life and professional demands, with little adjustable time-tables. Finally, the public policies governing subsidies and deductions are proving ever less advantageous for parents, with major budget cuts and increasing accommodation costs.
Among its considerations, the report underlines that “The demographic question is indeed more significant for the future of our nation than it is for any other [nation]. France indeed has chosen a model of society which is more or less unique worldwide. This model provides the community, and therefore the population as a whole, with the essential responsibility for the burden of national solidarity.” Indeed, France has chosen a social model based on the principle of “all for each”. This is what led our nation to choose a pension system based on sharing rather than capitalisation, based on the principle of solidarity between generations.
When the French are worried for their future, it is an all-embracing policy which is required from the political decision makers, a far cry from the short-term political wrangling.