This page is one of the annex pages of, the foremost site on Franco-American intercultural differences. It contains documents, facts and figures illustrating the content of some of its pages.

Facts & figures

This page contains Facts and Figures about France and the French. Some are significant, other less so....

History :

 French Economy   French politics 
 The French are often worried about the situation of their country and periodically, studies and articles list the strong and the weak points of the French economy and society. Here are some of the most recent :

 Strengths and weaknesses of France in 2005
In October 2005, the Center-Left weekly " Nouvel Observateur " tried to make a list of what's right and wrong in France. This is only an article : it is partial and some of the statements are well known but some others might be surprising to foreign readers. Here it is :

What's wrong :
1. We live above our means (budget deficit of the state : 3%)
2. Our expenses for health are skyrocketing (11% of GNP)
3. We work less than our neighbours (see figures)
4. Our pension system is vulnerable
5. We lost 1,6 million manufacturing jobs
6. Investment is growing too slowly (2% a year vs 3 or 4% in other European countries)
7. Our entrepreneurs are depressed
8. Our large corporations belong to foreign pension funds (44% of the capital of the CAC40 Index corporations)
9. People stay unemployed longer (see figures)
10. Young people have a harder time finding a job
11. The overhead on our salaries is huge (see anatomy of a paycheck)
12. Our labor force is expensive (see figures)
13. We have a large and growing number of civil servants (see figures)
14. 20% of our children leave school without any diploma
15. Our universities are poor (see figures)
16. Our wines do not sell as well as they used to
17. Our economic attractiveness is decreasing (from second to fourth destination for foreign investment)
18. Our balance of trade with China is in deficit
19. (My personal comments) I would add

  • We do not do well in integrating the children of foreign migrants in the French society (see more)
  • Not enough R & D (see figures)
  • In France, it is very difficult to change anything in a consensual way
  • (Many) more to come.

 In April 2007, the magazine "Capital" published a special issue on "the state of France" (besfore the presidential election). It identifies the following :

Weak points :

  • for the past 15 years, the economic growth has been slower than the rest of Europe
  • the ranking for competitivity is mediocre (global market share 4,8% vs. 6,3% in 1996)
  • due to heavy constraints, small and middle businesses develop slower
  • the debt of the State is enormous (65% of the GNP, 18,000 Euros per inhabitant)
  • the working time is too low (35-hour week + vacation + early retirement) (see figures)
  • unemployement is consistently higher than in the rest of Europe (more than 8% for the past 25 years)
  • the retirement system is vulnerable
  • the results for education are mediocre, comsidering the money spent
  • not enough money for scientific research

But there are strong points :

  • the most dynamic demography in Europe (the highest birthrate, with Ireland)
  • excellent infrastructures : transport (fast train TGV), electricity (cheapest in Europe), airports, ...
  • the best health system in Europe (and in the world according to WHO) : read more
  • a very developped social system (poverty, unemployment, handicap,...)
  • large internation corporation world leaders in their field
  • a very strong agriculture and food industry
  • the first touristic destination in the world
  • the first industry of luxury goods in the world (see figures)
  • an efficient environmental policy
  • innovation : many startups and digital companies

The French State Agency in charge of promoting foreign investment in France has published several little leaflets ""Key info in Ten Points" (available on its site) to answer major questions on the French economy and the worst aspects of its image abroad, some of them surprising :

  • "Why invest in France ?" Ex. : Did you know that France is ranked 6th in the world for hourly labour cost, ahead of Germany (7th) and UK (13th) (OECD 2014)
  • "France is lagging behind on R&D and innovation" : France ranked second in Europe and sixth in the world for the number of international patents filed (WIPO 2013)
  • "A haven for university students ?" With more than 289,000 foreign students in higher education, France is the 3rd leading host country after the USA and UK (Campus 2014)
  • etc


  Recent examples of sectarianism and lack of fair-play in French political life :
  • When French Minister of Finance Christine Lagarde was appointed Director General of IMF (June 29, 2011) she gave a brief farewell address to the National Assembly. The deputies on the Right gave her a standing ovation, while the deputies on the Left remained seated.
  • The Constitution of France does not allow the President to speak in the Parliament (except in very limited cases) : traditionally, he invites all the members of the Parliament to a New Year party and gives a speech to wish them (and the country) a good year. Traditionally too, the leaders of the opposition (Socialist and Communist) boycott it and refuse to come.... (January 2011)
  • in December 2009, in the final vote of a law updating the constituencies of deputies, a Senator of the majority who had the power for his whole group pushes the wrong button ; the Socialist chairwoman proclaims the law rejected (in this debate, I heard a Communist senator declare "we must not create seats for the French citizens living abroad : they vote for the Right Wing")
  • in May 2007, when the results of the Presidential Election are announced, the loser (Socialist Segolene Royal) declares "we'll have other victories" (not a word for the winner Sarkozy)
  • in June 2007, although he won 54/46, Sarkozy appoints to his government several Socialist leaders : they are excluded by their party
  • in June 2008, Sarkozy proposes significant amendments to the Constitution, giving more power to the Parliament and less to the President and being for most of them former demands of the Opposition ; the Socialists (except one) vote against it
  • in October 2008, the Left-wing opposition abstains in the vote to rescue the failing banking system, when all governments in the world voted similar measures 
  • More to come...

Back to Politics in France.

The 2012 Presidential campaign

Some surprising (for Americans) promises or statements by the 10 candidates during the 2012 Presidential campaign :

  • a 100%-tax on all income above 360,000 Euros/year (Jean-Luc Melenchon, candidate for the Left Front) or a 83+% on all income above 1 million Euro/year (Fraçois Hollande, Socialist Party)
  • "our only enemy is the financial sector" (François Hollande, Socialist Party)
  • the creation of a "droit de l'eau" (right to water) by subsidizing water for the poorest (a group supporting the candidate for the Greens)
  • a law will forbid any dismissal or lay-off for any reason (Nathalie Arthaud, Trotskyist)
  • a 21.5% raise of the minimum wage to 1,700 Euros/month (and same increase to all the associated state-monitored monthly allocations) (Jean-Luc Melenchon, Left Front)
  • abandoning the Euro and going back to the Franc (Marine le Pen, National Front and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan independent)
  • immediate change from the 35-hour week to the 32-hour week (Philippe Poutou, New Anticapitalist Party)
  • and many others….

There were 10 candidates (see their mottos, roughly translated) and their respective scores on the first run of the elections were :

  • Nicolas Sarkozy (Center Right, "A strong France") :27,2 %,(the lower part of the bracket)
  • François Hollande (Socialist Party,"Change is now") : 28,6%, (close to estimates)
  • Marine Le Pen (Extreme Right, "Yes, France") :17,9 %, (higher than expected)
  • Jean-Luc Melenchon (a coalition with the Communist Party, "Come to power") : 11,1%, (lower than expected)
  • François Bayrou (Center, "France with solidarity") :9,1 %, (a very disapointing result)
  • Eva Joly (Greens, "The real change") : 2,3%, (very lower but the Green feared worse)
  • Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (Right, "A free France") :1,8 %,
  • Nathalie Artaud (Trotskyist, "A Communist candidate") :0,6 %,
  • Philippe Poutou (Trotskyist, "Let the capitalists pay for their own crisis") : 1,9%,
  • Jacques Cheminade (politically unidentified, "a world without the City and Wall Street") :0,3 %.
  • The % of non-voters was 20,5%

For the second run on May 6, the resulats were : François Hollande 51,7 %, Nicolas Sarkozy 48,3 % with 19 % non-voters (the % of voters is higher than in many other countries : it shows that the French love politics!)


A few examples of "avantages acquis" (social benefits)

  • Employees of the National Railways company (SNCF) and their relatives (1.1 million persons!) travel for free (total cost for the taxpayer estimated at $140 m.)
  • Employees of Air France (now a private company) and their family travel at a (very) reduced cost : 2.3 million trips in 2013 for a total cost of $130 m.
  • Employees of the National Electricity company (EDF) pay only 10% of the price of electricity and 1% of the revenues is allocated to the "Comite d'entreprise".
  • More to come....

The case of the project of law to reform labor laws (project "El Khomri") at the begining of 2016 : some of the projected changes which arouse the strongest opposition, street demonstrations, strikes, etc :

  • The most controversial : putting a ceiling (15 months salary) to the compensation that a judge can allow to an employee who takes his employer to court after beind laid off (today, there is no limit) (finally, this provision was dropped)
  • A matter of principle : a local labor negotiation in a firm, between the management and the unions, can modify certain aspects (working time, among many others) which have been negotiated at the national level of the economic sector the firm belongs (today, the national agreement must prevail)
  • More to come

A few examples of "niches fiscales" (tax breaks and deductions)

  • (to be completed)


Most extraordinary (for Americans) declarations / decisions by the new President François Hollande and his supporters after the elections :

  • "I shall redirect Europe" (FH, May 6) and "I shall re-enchant the French dream"
  • The first day of the new government, a decree will abolish the principle of evaluating teachers and professors (established by N.Sarkozy" (May 9)
  • One of the funniest names of the Ministries in the new Cabinet (May 15) is "Ministère du Redressement Productif", which could translate "Ministry of the Productive Revival" (or "Productive Recovery"), held by dashing Arnaud Montebourg.
  • More to come....

Back to Politics in France.

Taxes on high salaries

  •  For executives, with the same salary (457,000 Euros), the % of taxes and contributions on salary is 43,7% in the USA vs. 66,6% in France
  • The figure in Europe varies between 45,1% in UK and 70,8% in Belgium (Source : Rapport Lavenir for the French Parliament, April 2002)
  • In 2012, President Hollande decided a new 75%-tax on all income above $1.4 m.
  • Back to the anatomy of a paycheck

Facts and figures about working in France

  • Absenteism : are French civil servants in poor health? The number of days of absence due to sick leaves (including maternity leaves), all paid with full salary, is very high among civil servants. About twice more than in the private sector, due to a poor management, particularly in the management of citries and regions. The official figures show an average of 26 days a year for city civil servants, the record being held by the city of Montpellier with 39 days a year. Maternity leaves represent around one third of this number. Do not forget to add the 5 weeks of paid vacations, which makes their fully paid work-year a nine-month year... (Source : IFRAP 2014).
  • More to come .....
 in 1000 Euros  France  USA  Germ.  UK Belgium  Nederl
 Total cost for employer (1)  615,6  467,3  468,3  512,3  617,1  520,5
 Employer's contribution (2)  158,3  10,0  11,0  55,0  159,7  63,2
 Employee's income (3)=(1)-(2)  457,3  457,3  457,3  457,3  457,3  457,3
 Employee's contribution (4)  59,2  11,0  10,0  3,5  60,5  23,5
 Income tax (5)  192,4  182,6  241,7  172,7  216,5  253,9
 Total taxes (6)=(4)+(5)  251,7  193,6  251,6  176,2  277,0  277,4
 Net income (7)=(3)-(6)  205,7  263,8  205,7  281,1  180,3  179,9
 Apparent withdrawal (8)=(6)/(3)  55,0%  42,3%  55,0%  38,5%  60,5%  60,6%

 Real withdrawal (9)=((6)+


 66,6%  43,7%  56,0%  45,1%  70,8%  65,4%
 The French society...   The French "modèle social" : a few examples

 The main forms of work contracts in France :

   C.D.I.  C.D.D.  C.P.E.(°)  Internship
 Name  contrat à durée indéterminée  contrat à durée déterminée  contrat première embauche  stage
 Type  the most frequent (>80%)    for people under 26 : the reason for the 2005 strikes  
 Maturity  unlimited  18 months maximum  unlimited  6 months maximum
 Trial period  1 to 3 months (6 months max) (renewable once)  contractual  2 years (the only difference with CDI)  contractual
 Termination  strictly regulated (must be justified by employer) except during the trial period  contractual ; can be renewed only once ; indemnity 5% at maturity  same as CDI  contractual
 Notice  1 to 3 months  contractual  same as CDI  contractual
 Indemnity in case of termination by employer  legal (1/10 month per year of length of service + conventional  same as CDI  same as CDI  none
(°) : created in January 2006 and abandoned almost immediately after huge demonstrations against it.

Back to "working in France"

Monthly Familiy Allowance "Allocations familiales" in France (as of January 1, 2001) :

  • 2 children 125,78 Euros (approx. $ 166)
  • 3 children : 286,94 Euros ($ 379)
  • 4 chilren : 448,10 Euros ($ 591)
  • for each additional child : 161,17 Euros ($ 213)
  • supplement for children above age 14 : 62,90 Euros ($ 83)

Detail of allocations(Source : CNAF in Le Figaro Jan.26, 2011)

  • Allocation for families (2 children and more) and various other allocations (handicapped children, help for school supplies, etc…) : Euros 19,9 billion for 5,6 million beneficiaries
  • Housing allocation (for people below a certain income or in special situations like mothers raising children alone) : Euros 15,5 billion for 6 million
  • Young children (nannies, service social workers to help people raising young children, …) : Euro 14,7 billion for 6,7 million
  • RSA (formerly RMI) for people who are not eligible for job-seekers help (young people who never had a job, people who are not eligible any longer to job-seekers help) : Euros 8,8 billion for 1,8 million
  • Other allocations (to maintain old people in their home, paternity leave, etc…) : Euros 7,9 billion (number of beneficiaries not available)
  • Allocation for handicapped adults : Euros 5,9 for 0,8 million

The level of fraud is officially estimated at Euros 2 billion (on a total of 72).

Back to Social Security in France

  • Years spent in retirement : compared figures (Source : Figaro Oct.14, 2014)
    • France : 18.9 years
    • Italy : 17.7
    • Belgium : 17.5
    • Netherlands : 17.2
    • Spain : 16.1
    • Germany : 15.1
    • UK : 14
    • Sweden : 13.9
    • USA : 10.4 years
    • Japan : 9.7

Back to retiring in France

A few examples of abusive strikes

  • in May 2006 : the "Syndicat des Travailleurs Corses" and Syndicat Force Ouvrière (FO) blocked the two gasoline depots of Corsica for 5 weeks because the delivery people of the newspaper Nice-Matin could not reach an agreement on salaries with their company. No way to buy gas on the island...
  • in 2003, Marseille was competing with Valencia for the organization of the America Cup (sailing) : during the visit of the Committee in charge of designating the best site, there was a huge strike of garbage collectors with piles of trash and rats running in the streets : unions refused to stop the strike. Marseille is by far the dirtiest city in France, with garbage bags everywhere on the streets, waste papers flying around, etc. It is famous for the constant strikes of the employees of the city's garbage collection service. These employees enjoy a unique privilege in their job contract, the " fini-parti " (literally : " done-gone ") : as soon as their job is finished, they can go back home (or to their more lucrative undeclared job). I saw a subject on national TV with a hidden camera showing a garbage truck racing through the streets, the team throwing garbage in it (half of it ending on the pavement) and finishing their shift in two hours (instead of six). When you talk about that to a "Marseillais", he/she sighs and says " That's the way it is ....".
  • in March 2005, when the Commission of Evaluation of the International Olympic Committee visited the 5 candidate cities, a major public transport strike was planned in Paris : one organization (CFDT) proposed to postpone it and all the others refused! There was a strike and the city was a mess. The (Socialist) Mayor of Paris declared : "This strike will not jeopardize the French candidacy : it will show that we are a real democracy". Isn't that cynical ? Of course, Paris was not selected ....
  • More to come



Some good

  • The Health policy and the Family policy are unquestioned in France and they are described on the specific page of this site
  • Social housing represents 20% to 25% of the number of dwelling units. According to a law (loi SRU, 2000), any city above 3,500 inhabitants must have 20% of public housing or pay a fine (which is high) for each missing unit.
  • More to come...

Some less so....

  • The price of many products and services depends on the income. For example, in 21012, 650,000 families are entitled to the "tarif social" and pay their electricity 30% to 40% less than the general price. There is a "tarif social" in many (if not most) public services : school cafeterias, public transport, swimming pools, etc....
  • AME (Aide medicale d'Etat i.e. medical State help) is a totally free health plan, paid by the State : all illegal migrants, without any paper, are eligible to this plan which covers all medical expenses. France is the only country in the world with such a help to migrants (since 2000).
  • Do you know what "droit de retrait" means ? Litteraly "right of withdrawal", it means that civil servants who work for a public service (like trains, schools, etc...) have the right to stop working if they consider that their safety or their health is at stake. It is not a strike since they continue to be paid. This why very time something dramatic happens like a crazy person wounding a train inspector or a school teacher, their colleagues stop working all over the country for hours or days...
  • Paid sick leaves for writers, hum.... A very successful novelist, Alexandre Jardin, reports that, one day as he was talking to an employee of the organization which runs the pension plan and the health program of writers (AGESSA), he was told "you known that you are entitled to (paid) sick leaves ?". Can lack of inspiration be considered an illness? Is the writer supposed to stop writing when sick ? (Le Figaro 27/1/2009)
  • more to come....

The (huge) strikes against the CPE in 2006 : a (mini) - case study

  • The problem :
    • unemployment is high in France (> 9%) and very high for young people (> 20% for people under 25)
    • all over Europe, the unemployment rate has been reduced by more flexibility : if employers could reduce their staff more easily they would be less reluctant to hire new people
  • The project :
    • The government has decided to establish by law a new job contract (C.P.E. = contrat première embauche) which would make it possible for employers to end a very long trial period (two years : today it never exceeds 6 months) without having to justify it (currently, it is a legal requirement).
    • This new contract would have no impact on existing contracts but it is expected that new positions would be created under these contracts.
  • The method :
    • The new Prime Minister wanted to go very fast though a specific law which was submitted to the Parliament under a Constitutional procedure (Article 49-3) which is a " yes " or " no " vote with no discussion or amendments possible.
    • There was no prior discussion whatsoever with employers associations or labor unions, political parties, etc....
  • The result :
    • A huge majority of young people, mostly students, stood against the law and demanded its withdrawal. In a few weeks, most French universities were blocked, millions of people demonstrated in the streets, the students were being joined by high school students and later labor unions.
    • On March 28, there was a big strike and almost 3 million people demonstrated in the streets on the theme " Say no to instability ".
    • Nevertheless, the Government declared the law would not be withdrawn and Villepin thought he would be politically dead if he backed-up : the situation was totally blocked. Finally the government gave up after almost three months of demonstrations and the CPE was abandonned.
  • About this case study : what is wrong with France ?
    • A political class which is absolutely autistic : Villepin being a perfect example of it.
    • A preference for authority (i.e. laws) rather than discussion (consensus between social partners)
    • " Intermediary powers " (like unions) are too weak and their only chance to survive is radicalization
    • Only the King can put an end to a blockade : when the King is weakened (Chirac), no solution is possible
    • No economic culture and no understanding of the actual situation of companies by students and unions
    • A preference for ideas rather than facts
    • General self-centeredness : in France nobody is interested by the fact that a given policy did work in another country and could be used to solve the same problem in France.
Back to page Society, etc

To table of contents

To top of the page 

Back to home page

Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books:

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming events, testimonials, etc..)

To email me

 If you like this site, please bookmark it or create a link!