[OUTLOOK]Babies are a French love affairOn May 3, the French police arrested a woman in her 30s on charges of illegally receiving financial incentives of more than 200 million won ($214,000) from the government.
She falsely reported to the 17 branches of CAF, a French agency that manages family allowances, that she had given birth to quintuplets, and had received 22,100 euros ($28,500) per month since last August. She was able to plan this fraud because the French government grants generous financial support for families with children. This case illustrates how generous the French government is to large families.
In 2005 in France, a woman had 1.94 children on average. This is the second-highest birth rate in the European Union countries, second only to Ireland, which had a rate of 1.99 per woman. The French government thinks this is not good enough, and is coming up with new incentives to encourage larger families.
The government says that its birth rate is below the replacement rate of 2.07 children per woman, the level needed to prevent the population from decreasing.
France used to have even bigger worries over its birth rate. Beginning in 1901, France had the lowest birth rate in Europe for five consecutive years. The government felt anxious about that and started granting financial incentives to promote larger families.
Beginning in about 1910, the French government offered financial support to families with children. The government designed these measures in an attempt to ensure that families would have the money they needed to bring up their children. Even rich people were granted such incentives when they gave birth to children.
Herve Gaymard, 45, the former French finance minister, and his wife Clara, president of the Invest in France Agency, receive 500 euros per month from the government because they have eight children.
That generous financial aid for large families was just a start. Different types of incentives have been instituted as well, such as ones for pregnant women, day care fees and payments for children who begin their education.
The French government has showed its regard for mothers. The measures allow them to manage both working and raising children. Through research, the government found that when both husband and wife worked, they tended to produce more children. The authorities believed that this was probably because double incomes helped couples to decide to have children without worrying about possible financial insecurity in the future.
Mothers are guaranteed maternal leaves so long that the managers of their companies are not very happy about losing productive employees for an extended period. Silvie Pischbach, a 38-year-old nurse, said that during the past eight years, while she gave birth to three children and raised them until the youngest child reached three, she worked for less than four years in total.
In France, the birth rate among unmarried couples is relatively high. As an increasing number of couples do not fancy the institution of marriage, the legal bonding of French couples in 2005 was down by 30 percent from the figure of 1970.
But the birth rate during this period increased steadily, thanks to the high fertility rate among unmarried couples. Nearly 50 percent of the babies born in 2002 were the offspring of unmarried couples.
Those couples who live together without getting married or who have PACs, the “civil solidarity pact” in France, have the same legal and institutional benefits as those given to married couples.
Segolene Royal, 52, a French national assemblywoman who is the most popular candidate to be the country’s next president, has been living with her mate without marriage and has four children from this relationship. The movie star Sophie Marceau is also not married and has two children.
The French measures aimed to promote larger families show the importance of policy makers’ decisions. Although the country is facing a growing national debt and a tighter budget, it is increasing financial incentives for families with children. The money spent to promote larger families accounts for as much as three percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
France’s birth rate has jumped from the lowest to the second highest among European countries during the last 100 years. The country, however, still thinks it has a long way to go because it aims to meet the rate of 2.07 children per woman.
There is a saying that an education system should be designed with consideration for the next 100 years. The French example shows that measures to promote a higher birth rate should be taken more seriously here.
* The writer is a correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Park Kyung-duk