should we worry if France loses its population?

If the population in France continues to increase, this growth will slow down for several years and may eventually lead to a decline in the population of the country.

France’s population has increased by 0.3% in one year, wrote in its annual report, published on Tuesday, the Institute for Statistics and National Economic Studies (Insee).

But he underlined at the same time that “the number of births has reached a historic low” in the country, and that “the natural balance, the difference between the number of births and deaths, has reached its lowest point since the end of the Second World War”.

France’s population growth seems to have hit a dead end.

“12 counties have experienced population decline over the past five years”

As of November 2021, in its report on population projections in France in 2070, INSEE has indicated that if current trends continue, starting in 2044 “the population will decline by an average of 45,000 persons per year, i.e. -0.1% per year”.

In Europe, however, France remains for now “one of the rare countries whose population continues to increase”, said Didier Breton, professor of demography at the University of Strasbourg and associate researcher at INED (National Institute of demographic studies). Thus, the total population increases “by 0.3% in 2022, after +0.4% in 2021 and +0.3% in 2020”, underlines the latest report from INSEE.

But if “France’s demographic growth is always accelerating, it’s slowing down”, explained Didier Breton.

And while France’s population officially continues to grow, the feeling of demographic decline is already being felt in some parts of France.

“When we took 27 former territories in France, 12 had experienced population decline over the past five years”, in the north, east and center of the country, explains Didier Breton. Meanwhile, the population continues to increase elsewhere, such as in the Atlantic arc or in the south.

The loss of population was already being felt in various parts of France

“In Martinique we observe a strong demographic decline, it is a magnifying effect of what has already happened in the departments on the French mainland”, said Didier Breton, “they are really living the feeling of this demographic decline”.

At the local level in France, population loss can be felt by the existence of public services. Between the 2017 and 2020 academic years, The Senate noted for example in 2021 there was a “sharp demographic decline” with a “loss of 150,000 students in the first grade”, indicating the closure of classes in some places.

And this decline in the number of children in France does not promise to stop, because “between 2015 and 2020, there were fewer and fewer births every year”, writes INSEE. Despite a rebound in 2021, “The number of births in 2022 is the lowest since 1946.” In France, there will be 1.80 children per woman in 2022 compared to 1.84 in 2021.

Losing residents means fewer public facilities or even businesses closing for lack of customers. This is a challenge for public policy which must adapt and provide other structures to maintain a certain balance in the future. The question is currently on the table with pension reform.

“The ratio between inactivity and activity will worsen”

France will indeed face aging population in the coming years. “People from the baby boom are now between 50 and 75 years old, they are no longer old enough to have children and have fewer children than their parents”, recalls Vanessa Cantet, specialist in demographic and social issues at the urban planning agency from Brest ( Finisere).

Therefore, the proportion of elderly people in the French population will increase in the coming years. “Right now 21% of the population is 65 years or older,” said Isabelle Robert-Bobée, head of surveys and the division of demographic studies at INSEE. But according to INSEE’s projections, “by 2040 they will be 26% (25 to 28% according to different hypotheses) and by 2070 29% of the population will be 65 years or older (24 to 34%).”

In the coming years, “we will end up with a very old population, therefore fewer people working, which could put a strong strain on the economy”, Vanessa Cantet explains, “there will be more need to account for care for the oldest , and less active”.

“Due to declining fertility, the ratio between inactive and active people will worsen”, says Catherine Scornet, lecturer in sociology-demography (University of Aix-Marseille / IRD), “fewer births today are fewer assets to contribute later”. He also pointed out that a decrease in population, “is a decrease in the number of consumers”, therefore the potential for economic growth.

In South Korea, where we find the lowest fertility rate in the OECD, with 0.8 children per woman in 2021, “demographics will, in the absence of structural reforms, contribute negatively to growth over the next few years, wrote the French Ministry of Economy.

“There is this idea that if we decline, we decline”

Beyond this reality of population loss, demographic decline is also, in the collective imagination, the fear of decline. “This is experienced as a concern because population is a country’s strength in the collective imagination, it is a sign of vitality”, said Didier Breton, “there is this idea that if we decline, we decline”.

“The weight of a country can be determined by its population”, continues Catherine Scornet. On the other hand, “the period of our history when we see population decline is associated with war and especially the deadly plague“.

In other European countries, such as Bulgaria or Romania, the demographic decline currently underway is “unprecedented for peacetime”, explained the demographer. These countries combined “higher death-than-birth-rates and massive emigration” due to difficult economic conditions.

Therefore, the decrease in population is definitely related to negative events.

It’s difficult to predict future demographics

But Isabelle Robert-Bobée underscores that if INSEE’s major projections come true, the decline will not be brutal: the population will reach 69.3 million in 2044 and 68.1 million in 2070, “that is 700,000 more than in 2021”, underlined INSEE.

If aging trends and declining birth rates seem common, “2050 or 2100 numbers are projections and the future is clearly not written”, also specify INED. The projections are “relevant for a generation, because we know how many people are born and when they will reach childbearing age”, explains Catherine Scornet. However it is more difficult to predict what will happen next.

The balance of migration over the next few years is even more complicated to estimate accurately, as it can be partially caused by geopolitical events that are impossible to predict. Therefore, INSEE revises its projections every five years.

Results published in 2021 have led to a 2016 “downward revision of the hypothesis” later wrote INSEE, “resulting in a moderately significant reduction in the population projected by 2070.”

Salome Vincentdon BFMTV journalist

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