Why French women are having more babies

Despite an economic crisis in Europe, French women are saying oui to bigger families.

While fertility rates have dropped in most of Europe as well as in the United States since the Great Recession, France's birth rate has instead climbed to the highest on the European continent, according to France24.com.

France's institute for demographic studies, INED, released statistics in March that showed the average number of children born to French women rose to 2.01 in 2011 from 1.96 in 2007, surpassing neighboring Belgium, whose rate fell to 1.81 from 1.82, and Germany, where the average fell to 1.36 children, down from 1.37.

The trend is not attributed solely to the country's renowned penchant for romance. Instead, the French government's generous child care and other family welfare policies have encouraged women to have more children despite the tumultuous economy, according to Olivier Thévenon, an expert on population and social programs for INED. The "surprising" trend can largely be ascribed to two factors: Government programs that include long-term care for children under 3 and cash stipends for families with more than one child, Thévenon said.

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The policies also help women juggle their home life together with a career, Thévenon told France24.com.

"These policies are the main drivers in helping women combine family and work," Thévenon said.

Yet the government, under Socialist President François Hollande, is looking to cut back on such programs, which in addition to a wide network of child care options and cash transfers, includes tax breaks and other help. Seeking to trim the budget, Hollande last week announced plans to reduce child tax credits and lower child care rebates, saving 1.3 billion euros by next year.

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Other areas of family welfare would remain unscathed. The plan would not reduce direct cash transfers to households with two or more children, regardless of income, and would introduce as many as 275,000 new openings for early child care.

The French fertility rate also surpassed that in the U.K., which bucked the downward trend to increase slightly to 1.96 from 1.9, and in the United States, where birth rates are traditionally higher than in Europe. During the same period in the U.S., the birth rate fell steeply, from 2.12 to 1.89.

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