Women's Fertility and Educational Level in France: Evidence from the Annual Census Surveys

By Davie, Emma; Mazuy, Magali | Population, July-September 2010 | Go to article overview

Women's Fertility and Educational Level in France: Evidence from the Annual Census Surveys


Davie, Emma, Mazuy, Magali, Population


Keywords: France, fertility, educational level, census, first child

At nearly two children per woman (Pla and Beaumel, 2010), fertility in France is among the highest in Europe (Prioux and Mazuy, 2009; Kohler et al., 2002), while the proportion of women remaining permanently childless is relatively small: around 13% in the 1960s birth cohorts (Toulemon et al., 2008; Breton and Prioux, 2009). But these characteristics vary considerably according to women's educational level (Robert-Bobée and Mazuy, 2005; Toulemon and Lapierre-Adamcyk, 2000). Childlessness is far more common among women with the highest qualifications (Köppen et al., 2007), and delayed first childbirth is closely linked to later age at completion of education and a longer interval between union formation and entry into parenthood. The general trend towards later childbirth is bounded by the "reproductive norm" (Bajos and Ferrand, 2006), i.e. the socially defined requirements for having children, such as the "right" age for having a child, the "right" interval between two births, a stable partnership and agreement between the partners. This normative framework surrounding men and women's reproductive choices varies between social groups, with contrasts observed for proportions of childless women, average numbers of children, and age at first birth.

Similarly, experience of migration significantly influences the life cycle of women, reflecting differences in socialization depending on whether their childhood and youth were spent in France or in another country. In addition, the reasons for migration - for family reunion or to pursue education - also affect the life cycle in different ways. The influence of educational level for women born outside metropolitan France (mainland France and Corsica) has received little attention from researchers due to the lack of suitable data. A simultaneous consideration of age, level of education, place of birth and time since arrival in France requires information collected on a large scale. This analysis is now possible using data from the French annual census surveys conducted between 2004 and 2009.

This article analyses recent female fertility trends in France by educational level with a view to observing differences and similarities in behaviour. It also examines the contribution of the French annual census surveys to fertility studies. With these data, we can observe differences between social groups in the way that fertility trends in the years 2000-2010 affected native-born and non native-born(1) women living in metropolitan France.

Since 2004, the formerly exhaustive French census has been conducted by means of annual census surveys (enquêtes annuelles de recensement, EAR). Onefi fth of municipalities (communes) with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants are surveyed each year, so that each commune in this category is surveyed once every five years. In municipalities with more than 10,000 inhabitants, 8% of households are surveyed annually, so that after five years 40% of households have been enumerated. These annual census surveys are conducted at the beginning of each year on around nine million people. Thanks to the use of stratified sampling, they are representative at national and regional levels, though not necessarily so at the sub-regional level (départements) (Desplanques, 2008). This rolling census is unique to France (Valente, 2010). The annual surveys provide the basis for reliable analysis of fertility trends for the years 2000-2008 using the own-children method. In Sections I and II of this article, the conventional fertility measures (total fertility rate and mean age at childbirth) are estimated from the census surveys for women in general. These are compared with indicators based on vital records and then analysed by educational level. In Sections III and IV, we analyse the contribution of first births to general fertility trends by level of education, and the contributions of native-born and non native-born women, highlighting the limitations of the measurement tools generally available to demographers.

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