Recent Demographic Developments in France: Life Expectancy Still Rising

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Overall trends and age structure

Nearly 62 million inhabitants in metropolitan France

France's population on 1 January 2008 is estimated at 63.75 million, of whom 61.88 million in metropolitan France (mainland + Corsica) (Pla, 2008). In 2007, the population of metropolitan France rose 340,000, or 5.5%o. As net migration is estimated to have fallen from 90,000 in 2006 to 70,000 in 2007, most of the year's population growth (79.4%) was due to a natural increase of 270,000 (Table 1(1)). This figure still exceeds all values observed since 1973, with the exception of 2006, when it reached 281,000. With the number of deaths remaining stable in 2007 at 516,000, the same figure as in 2006, the dip was thus due to a slight decline in the number of births from 797,000 in 2006 to 786,000 in 2007.

France thus recorded a natural increase of 4.4%o in 2007, the highest figure in the European Union (EU) after Ireland (around 9.8%o, according to the Eurostat website). Indeed, few EU countries achieved a rate of natural increase above 2%o in 2007, the exceptions being Cyprus, 4%o; Luxembourg, 3.4%o; United Kingdom, 3.2%o; Netherlands, 2.9%o; Spain, 2.4%o. Deaths exceed births in nine EU countries: Germany, Italy, Portugal, the three Baltic countries, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania.

A still relatively favourable age structure

Three factors are helping to keep natural increase relatively strong: a higher level of fertility than most of France's neighbours; a fairly long life expectancy - particularly for women - which is also rising every year; and an age structure still fairly resistant to mortality (Figure 1). This is because the "depleted cohorts" born during the First World War are currently causing a relative deficit of deaths at certain ages (around 90). This is especially the case for women, whose deaths tend to be highly concentrated around that age(2) (Pison, 2008). The gradual demise of the depleted cohorts and the arrival of larger cohorts should therefore cause deaths to rise in the years ahead.

The uptrend in births since 1994 has slightly broadened the base of the population pyramid (Figure 1). Nevertheless, the overall age structure continues to shift towards older ages (Table 2): the percentage of under-20s is still losing 0.1 points every year, reaching 24.6% on 1 January 2008, and the proportion of persons aged 60 and over has been rising sharply since 2006, as the first "baby-boomer" cohorts reach 60. However, this steep increase is confined to the 60-64 age group. The percentage of persons aged 65 and over remains fairly stable and will not begin to rise substantially until 2012.

The age structure of France's population is relatively "young" by comparison with other EU countries, at least as regards the share of the under-20s. In 2007, only two countries reported higher percentages: Ireland, with 27.1%, and Cyprus with 25.1%. The average of all 27 EU countries was distinctly lower at 21.9%. On the other hand, the relative share of persons aged 65 and over is smaller compared with France - sometimes considerably so - in about ten EU countries. The EU average is slightly above the French figure, however, at 16.9% versus 16.4%, because Germany and Italy, which together account for 28.5% of the total EU population, have shares very close to 20% (19.8% and 19.9% respectively). In the central scenario of the new population projections by the National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies (Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques, INSEE), a ratio of one in five inhabitants aged 65 and over will not be exceeded in France before 2020, but the proportion could reach one in four by 2037 (Robert-Bobée, 2006).

Foreign immigration(3)

A very slight decline since 2004

Since 2004, the number of foreigners settling in France can no longer be tracked as before, because French legislation has abolished - with rare exceptions - the residence permit requirement for citizens of the European Economic Area (EEA)(4) and Switzerland. …