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France, People and Society

Napoleonic era, populous nation, population of France, birth rate, industrialized nations

The population of France is 59,765,983 (2002 estimate). It is the fourth most populous nation in Europe, after Russia, Germany, and the United Kingdom. France is western Europe’s largest nation in total area and is sparsely populated by European standards, with an average population density of 110 persons per sq km (285 per sq mi). The population is distributed unevenly within France. The most crowded area is Paris and the surrounding urban region, where population density exceeds 921 persons per sq km (2,386 per sq mi). The region of Limousin in the hill lands of central France, with 42 persons per sq km (109 per sq mi), and the mountainous Mediterranean isle of Corsica, with just 30 persons per sq km (78 per sq mi), have the sparsest settlement. France is overwhelmingly urban: Three of every four people live in cities and towns.

France’s annual rate of population growth of 0.35 percent is low compared to most of the world. In 1800 France was the most populous nation in western Europe. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the birth rate in France declined relative to that of the rest of Europe, and the French population grew slowly. By the mid-20th century the population of France had fallen behind that of Germany, the United Kingdom, and Italy. (France’s population narrowly surpassed Italy’s in the 1990s). The slow growth of the French population can be partly attributed to the bloody wars of the Napoleonic era in the early 19th century and the two world wars in the 20th century. The early and wide-scale adoption of birth control by the French people also slowed population growth. Immigration, especially from Europe and North Africa, was a major source of French population growth during the 20th century. The population of France is projected to gradually begin declining sometime during the early 21st century.

The age structure of France changed dramatically in the late 20th century, with elderly people accounting for an ever larger share of the total population. The segment of the population between the ages of 0 and 14 declined from 26.4 percent in 1960 to 18.5 percent in 2002, while the number of people aged 65 or older increased from 11.6 percent to 16.2 percent. The number of older people is growing in France, as it is in most industrialized nations, as a result of the low birth rate and medical advances that have prolonged life. Life expectancy in France is now 83.1 years for females—one of the highest expected longevities in the world—and 75.2 years for males. France’s infant mortality rate (the number of infants per 1,000 who die before the age of 1) is 4.4, one of the world’s lowest.

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