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BRIAN WATT: This is the month the U.S. population will rise to 300 million, but many European populations have been on the decline for years. People are having fewer children over there. That may appear to create more room and less of a strain on resources. But what happens when there aren’t enough workers to support public health systems and retirees? There’s one country in Europe that seems to be bucking the low birthrate trend. France. That’s thanks in part to a government that champions childbearing. Eleanor Beardsley sends us this report from Paris.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: My son Maxime was one of 800,000 French babies born in the last year.
While low birthrates are provoking a crisis across the continent, France, at 1.9 children per woman, has the second-highest reproduction rate after Ireland.
I’ve read about empty maternity wards in Germany. But during my hospital stay in May the maternity ward was overflowing.
French romance might play some part in this, but I think it’s more a result of the French government’s policies. There are numerous benefits and incentives to have children in France, and the more children you have, the better it seems to get.
Paid parental leave, monthly cash allowances and subsidized daycare are just a few.
Juliette LaFont, a spokeswoman for the French Ministry of Family affairs, says women should not have to choose between working and having a family.
JULIETTE LAFONT [interpreter]: In France, our family policies give priority to reconciling family life and professional life. We want to encourage births and permit women to work if they want.
As a result, France has Europe’s highest female employment: 80 percent. In Germany the 1.2 child per couple rate is sounding alarms, a whole generation of career women is childless. Critics say this is due to policies that discourage women from working and having kids.
In the Andre Citroen Park near the Eiffel Tower Karen Martin is picnicking with her two little boys. Martin says she took advantage of parental leave to raise them herself.
KAREN MARTIN [interpreter]: It’s a priceless opportunity to be able to stay home for three years and create that bond with your kids. This will really prepare them for the future. I’ll go back to work at my job in finance once they’re in preschool.
French family planning policies seem to be working considering the bulk of Francea€™s population increase is caused by homegrown births, not immigration.
As for Maxime, he’ll be going to a neighborhood daycare just two blocks from our apartment. And because of a sliding scale pay system based on income, I’ll be shelling out just $20 a day for full time, quality care.
Heck, with all that free time and extra cash in my hands, I may think about having a second one.
In Paris, I’m Eleanor Beardsley for Marketplace.
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