French women have an uncanny ability to combine motherhood with work. About 80% of French women between the ages of 24 and 49 are employed, including those with young children.
Thanks to their independent spirit, a determination to maintain their professional and educational skills and a state system which provides generous benefits, women in France are more likely to work, even with children, than women in many other EU countries.
The birthrate in France has climbed to 1.9 children per woman – equal to Ireland. The European Union average is 1.4, so France could become the most populous country in Europe by the middle of the century.
France has one of the most generous childcare systems in Europe. Children as young as three can begin infant or maternal school in France. Even at the primary level, most schools begin classes at 8.30am and don’t finish until 4.30pm. Many schools offer childcare service to look after the children until 6.30pm or 7pm, although there is a charge for the extra care.
For children under three there are publicly and privately-run nurseries. There are also public daycare centres which, along with the public crèches, are funded by local and regional authorities and by means-tested parental fees. Getting a place in a crèche, however, can be very difficult.
Thirty-seven-year-old Carine Rapoport, a radiologist in Aix-en-Provence with two young children, said it was important to stay “active and useful” and maintain a sense of independence.
However, many women, like Rapoport, prefer to hire a nanny. The government offers financial incentives for parents who employ a nanny to come to their own home. According to a new system, parents pay only the salary of the nanny, while the state pays the numerous social security charges.
In addition, France offers family allowances, support for volunteer crèches, and family tax benefits, many of which increase with a third child.
Annie Kergoat, 39, a laboratory technician in the southern French town of Apt, works full time and has three children under 12. She placed her first child in a municipal crèche so she could go back to work. But after the births of her second and third child, she was eligible for a “congé parental” (parental leave of absence), meaning she could work part-time until each child reached the age of three. Her salary during this time was subsidised by the state.
“I like my work and would get bored staying at home,” she said. “I think women can have an active career and be useful to society. It’s difficult as the working world is not completely adapted to the working woman, but it is possible.”