French cul­ture has strong roots in a rich fam­ily tra­di­tion. Kate McNally shines the spot­light on the bonds which keep the gen­er­a­tions to­gether in France

Living France - - Insight -

If France has one of the high­est birth rates in Europe, it is cer­tainly no co­in­ci­dence. The coun­try has favourable ma­ter­nity rights, an af­ford­able, well-or­gan­ised child­care net­work, and a strong tra­di­tion of fam­ily life. As in most coun­tries, there has been a shift in the fam­ily paradigm over the past 50 years, with larger num­bers of work­ing moth­ers and a greater ten­dency among younger gen­er­a­tions to move away for work. That said, fam­ily ties and val­ues re­main an im­por­tant part of French so­ci­ety.


Per­haps it is the size of ru­ral France that ex­plains how and why the coun­try has long held onto its sense of fam­ily tra­di­tion. Cer­tainly in ru­ral ar­eas, grand­par­ents and even great-grand­par­ents re­main an in­te­gral part of fam­ily life, of­ten re­galed and re­spected for their sta­tus at the top of the hi­er­ar­chy. Their val­ues are thus passed down the gen­er­a­tions so that even if younger fam­ily mem­bers live in a very dif­fer­ent world to­day – of­ten an al­ways-on, al­ways-con­nected world – they ac­cept that they are ex­pected to un­plug and par­tic­i­pate when in a wider fam­ily cir­cle.

As in the UK and else­where, grand­par­ents have also taken on a more ac­tive role in terms of look­ing af­ter their grand­chil­dren. How­ever in France, they gen­er­ally help out once the child is slightly older, due to flex­i­ble ma­ter­nity rights (moth­ers can take ma­ter­nity leave for up to three years if they wish) and highly sub­sidised child­care.

It is par­tic­u­larly no­table that grand­par­ents step into the breach dur­ing school hol­i­days, help­ing out work­ing par­ents but also con­tin­u­ing what has be­come a French fam­ily tra­di­tion. Many par­ents have fond mem­o­ries of their own child­hood hol­i­days with grand­par­ents, fre­quently in a long-ago in­her­ited hol­i­day house open to the ex­tended fam­ily, and they are keen for their chil­dren to in­herit the same bank of mem­o­ries of a spe­cial time and place.


Al­though work­ing con­di­tions in France are favourable for em­ploy­ees in terms of job pro­tec­tion and rights, and women are given equal sta­tus in the work­place, there are rel­a­tively few moth­ers in full-time em­ploy­ment. Var­i­ous fac­tors, both neg­a­tive and pos­i­tive, could ac­count for this: no school on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noons, the im­pli­ca­tions of a com­bined house­hold in­come tax, a wide avail­abil­ity of part-time work and a de­sire to put chil­dren’s needs first, to name a few.

So while a high per­cent­age of French moth­ers work, the num­ber with full-time jobs is sur­pris­ingly low, which in turn has an im­pact on the in­flu­ence of women in the work­place as not many oc­cupy key po­si­tions within com­pa­nies. It is also ar­gued in some quar­ters that the ben­e­fi­cial ma­ter­nity rights could prove a dis­ad­van­tage to women work­ers in France, with bosses re­luc­tant to pro­mote some­one to a higher level who could po­ten­tially be ab­sent for long pe­ri­ods of time in the fu­ture.


The so­cial fab­ric of France re­volves very much around the fam­ily in ev­ery­day life, with week­end in­vi­ta­tions to dine to­gether with sib­lings or par­ents and fes­tive oc­ca­sions such as birth­days, Christ­mas and New Year cel­e­brated en famille. This is es­pe­cially no­table in ru­ral ar­eas where younger gen­er­a­tions are

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