In France, the number of births and life expectancy at half mast in 2020

Deaths on the rise, life expectancy reduced by several months, collapse of marriages: the Covid-19 left a clear mark on French demography in 2020, also marked by the continued decline in births, to the lowest since 1945.

During this first year of the epidemic, 667,000 people died in France – from all causes -, 9% more than in 2019, according to the 2020 demographic report published on Tuesday by INSEE.

This excess mortality, particularly marked during the two epidemic waves in April-May and then from October, was certainly less clear than in other European countries (it reached + 70% in Spain during the first wave and + 47% in Italy, compared to + 28% in France), but it nevertheless had a notable impact on life expectancy at birth.

This stood at 85.2 years for women (down almost five months) and 79.2 years for men (down six months), a much larger decline than that observed in 2015 , year of a strong winter flu.

Another consequence of the pandemic: the number of weddings collapsed by 34% in 2020, these celebrations having been prohibited during the first confinement, then authorized but with a strict limitation on the number of guests. “There was almost no marriage in April-May, and significantly less than in previous years in June-July,” notes INSEE.

A major demographic change, on the other hand, has nothing to do with the Covid: only 740,000 babies were born in France in 2020 (-1.8% in one year), a number that had never been so low since 1945 .

– Effect on the formation of couples? –

As the number of women between the ages of 20 and 40 (the age when they are most likely to have children) has been stable overall since 2016, this constant drop in births, year after year, is mainly due to the decline in fertility, to 1.84 children per woman in 2020 against 1.86 in 2019. This index still hovered around 2 between 2006 and 2014.

At the level of the European Union, France remains the champion of fertility, with 1.87 children per woman in 2018 (last possible comparison), ahead of Sweden and Romania (1.76), then Ireland ( 1.75).

Declining births, increasing deaths: logically, this conjunction resulted in a very low natural balance, at 82,000 against 140,000 in 2019. This is the lowest natural balance since 1945.

If the epidemic could not have an effect on births in 2020, it could, on the other hand, lead to a further drop in the birth rate in 2021, warned demographer Gérard-François Dumont, in an interview published on Tuesday in The cross.

Some couples could, in the near future, give up having children because of the “feeling of insecurity” linked to the pandemic, or its economic consequences, believes this specialist. In addition, “one should not underestimate the impact of containment measures, and closure of places of sociability on the formation of couples”, according to Mr. Dumont: “this will ultimately influence the number of births, because it the future parents must start by meeting “.

Last week, the National Union of Family Associations commented in anticipation on the bad number of births, calling on the public authorities to strengthen their family policy, to better respond to “thwarted desires of children”.

“If families have fewer children, it is (…) not because they want less”, said this association collective. According to a recent study carried out by the Kantar Institute for Unaf, the French want or would have wanted on average 2.39 children, which is much more than actual fertility. Among those questioned, two-thirds of those who had only one child would like them, or would have wanted at least two.

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