France has long had a comprehensive family support policy. In particular, it provides a wide range of subsidised childcare services and a generous and diverse system of allowances, especially for large families. These are the main elements of the provisions aimed at helping parents to achieve a better balance between work and family life. This package of measures seems to be extremely effective. France has among the highest birth rate as well as among the highest rate of employment of mothers among European Union Member States.
With two children per woman in 2010, France, alongside Ireland, tops the European rankings in terms of birth rate. Its birth rate has been rising slowly but surely for almost 20 years, a period during which most EU Member States have seen their rate decline.
The high birth rate would seem to be explained by the fact that parents of young children have good employment prospects and a well-established and consistent family policy. According to the 2011 figures, the rate of employment among mothers of children under six stands at 65%, one of the highest in the EU. It should also be noted that the overall rate of female employment is also high (59.7%) and is in line with the Lisbon target. Furthermore, this rate is 8.5 percentage points below that for men. However, 30.1% of women in employment work part-time compared to just 6.9% of men. The salary gap between the sexes (16%) is lower than the European average of 16.4%.
Financial benefits, known as family allowances, are a cornerstone of the French family support policy. The system is managed by the Family Allowances Fund (Caisses d’allocations familiales - CAF). Monetary transfers to families (2.6% of GDP) are higher than the European average (2.3%). Childcare services make up 1.6% of GDP. The family support budget is the equivalent of 3.6% of GDP if tax relief is also taken into account. The at-risk-of-poverty rate for children (18.8%) is lower than the EU average (20.5% in 2010).
Women on maternity leave receive their full salary for 16 weeks (26 weeks if it is their third child and up to 34 weeks for multiple births). Fathers are entitled to paternity leave of 11 consecutive days without loss of earnings.
Other benefits include the one-off birth allowance (€912) and adoption allowance (€1,824), the monthly single parent allowance, which varies depending on income and number of children (€712 for a single parent with one child, €189 extra per additional child), the education allowance for disabled children (from €127 to €1,060 per month) and housing benefit which is determined by rent and household income (around €210 per month on average).
Parental leave was gradually extended, between 1994 and 2004, to all families irrespective of the number of children. A monthly parental allowance (child care choice supplement) is paid to families if one of the parents reduces their working hours to look after a child under the age of three. This allowance rises to €561 per month if the parent gives up employment. It is lower for parents who work part-time during their parental leave. Parents with at least three children have been able to take shorter but better paid parental leave since 2006.
Large families, of two children and above, are encouraged and supported in many ways in France, in particular thanks to the family allowance system. Allowances are paid after a second child is born until they reach the age of 20. The allowances amount to €127 for two children and €289 for three children plus €162 for each additional child. Furthermore, a supplementary allowance of €165 per month is paid on a means-tested basis (depending on household income) to families with at least three children aged three or over, which applies up to the age of 21.
Large families also benefit from significant tax relief. A special tax principle, the ‘family quotient’, favours in particular families with at least three children. The French tax system is based on the household rather than the individual. Each household is allocated a certain number of points depending on its situation in terms of civil status and number of children. A married couple is entitled to two points, a half-point for each of the first two children and an additional point per child from the third child. This system results in significant tax relief as total household income is divided by the number of points that the household has and taxes are calculated on the basis of this income after adjustment.
France has developed a comprehensive system of high-quality childcare and pre-school services which help parents to work. Crèches take infants from the age of two months (the duration of maternity leave). They are run by local authorities, companies and parent associations. The parental contribution to fees is determined on the basis of income in the case of almost all crèches. Parents can also opt for the services of registered childminders, who can look after up to four children at their home. The focus is therefore on achieving a better balance between family and professional life by increasing the provision of crèche services and financial support for families who employ someone to look after their child.
Children can attend nursery school, a typically French institution established in 1881, from the age of two. Pre-school education is free and covers all children from the age of three to six and 15% of children under the age of three. However, it should be noted that the number of children under the age of three in pre-school education has been in decline for several years.
Both crèches and nursery schools have long and flexible opening hours (from 7:00/8:00 a.m. to 6:00/7:00 p.m.). In addition, parents of children under the age of six can use leisure centre services and childcare facilities outside school hours before and after the school day as well as during school holidays. These services are often subsidised by the Family Allowances Fund.
However, some parents, both in Paris and in rural areas, have difficulty finding crèche places for their children. In light of this, the French government has undertaken to create almost 200,000 additional childcare places for children under the age of three by 2012: 100,000 collective childcare places in crèches resulting in the creation of new places for 60,000 and the optimisation of the use of existing places for 40,000 were planned. A further 100,000 children were to be looked after by childminders. The government’s Family Department will invest almost €1.5 billion in this project. This target was 86% met in the first two years of the scheme— 2009 and 2010.
Finally, a website “mon-enfant.fr” was set up in May 2009 to meet the need for an improvement in the information provided to families about childcare options. This site provides parents with general information about all childcare options. It also provides news, information on the professions concerned and full details of the organisations funded by the Family Allowances Fund and the contact details of childminders.
Families today have new needs which require solutions from the public authorities. This was the key message of the proposals of the first parent support plan put forward by the Secretary of State for Families on 17 November 2009. The main measures announced include experimentation with “family centres” which will bring the existing facilities found in various locations together under one roof (family info points, listening support networks) and the creation of a “family-oriented towns” label.
The measures complement various parent support initiatives run by local associations and supported and developed over almost 15 years by the state, the Family Allowances Fund and the local authorities.
The new government is set to launch a consultation with social partners between the end of 2012 and the first three months of 2013 on equal opportunity in the world of work and on quality of life at work. As part of this consultation, social partners will discuss work-life balance, which could lead to a reform of parental leave and related payments.
The information in the country profile was last updated in November 2012.
Parents often use the services of registered childminders, who account for two-thirds of childcare solutions for children under the age of three. Of the 28% of children under the age of three looked after within the institutional system, over 18% are taken care of by childminders at their home or the parents’ home. The 290,600 childminders in France in the second half of 2009 provide 817,100 childcare places for children under the age of six.