Demographics of France

Since prehistoric times, France has been a crossroads of trade, migrations, and invasions. Four basic European ethnic stocks - Celtic (Gallic and Breton), Aquitanian (Basque related), Latin, and Germanic (Franks, Visigoths, Burgundians, Vikings) - have blended over the centuries to make up its present population. Besides these "historic" populations, new populations have migrated to France since the 19th century: Belgians, Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Poles, Armenians, Jews from Eastern Europe and the Maghreb, Arabs and Berbers from the Maghreb, Black Africans, and Chinese, to list only the most prominent. It is currently estimated that 40% of the French population descends from these new populations, making France the most ethnically diverse country of Europe, and quite comparable to the United States or Canada, despite the still popular stereotypes of France as an essentially Gallic country.


Historical population of metropolitan France

Please note:

  • figures are for metropolitan (i.e. European) France only, excluding overseas départments and territories, as well as former French colonies and protectorates. Algeria and its départements, although they were an integral part of metropolitan France until 1962, are not included in the figures.
  • to make comparisons easier, figures provided below are for the territory of metropolitan France within the borders of 2004. This was the real territory of France from 1861 to 1871, and again since 1919. Figures before 1861 have been adjusted to include Savoie and Nice, which only became part of France in 1861. Figures between 1795 and 1815 do not include the French départements in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy, although they were an integral part of France during that period. Figures between 1871 and 1919 have been adjusted to include Alsace and part of Lorraine, which both were at the time part of the German Empire.
  • figures before 1801 are modern estimates; figures from 1801 (included) onwards are based on the official French censuses.
 Year   Population     Year   Population       Year   Population

50 BC	  6,700,000	1811   30,271,000	1896   40,158,000
    0	  8,000,000	1816   30,573,000	1901   40,681,000
  400	 12,200,000	1821   31,578,000	1906   41,067,000
  850	  7,000,000	1826   32,665,000	1911   41,415,000
 1226	 16,000,000	1831   33,595,000	1921   39,108,000
 1345	 20,200,000	1836   34,293,000	1926   40,581,000
 1400	 16,600,000	1841   34,911,000	1931   41,524,000
 1457	 19,700,000	1846   36,097,000	1936   41,502,000
 1580	 20,000,000	1851   36,472,000	1946   40,503,000
 1594	 18,500,000	1856   36,714,000	1954   42,777,000
 1600	 20,000,000	1861   37,386,000	1962   46,243,000
 1670	 18,000,000	1866   38,067,000	1968   49,778,000
 1700	 21,000,000	1872   37,653,000	1975   52,656,000
 1715	 19,200,000	1876   38,438,000	1982   54,335,000
 1740	 24,600,000	1881   39,239,000	1990   56,615,000
 1801	 29,361,000	1886   39,783,000	1999   58,519,000
 1806	 29,648,000	1891   39,947,000	2005   60,560,000

Historic overview

Starting around 1800, the historical evolution of the population in France has been extremely atypical in the Western World. Unlike the rest of Europe, France did not experience a strong population growth in the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. The birth rate in France diminished much earlier than in the rest of Europe. Consequently, population growth was quite slow in the 19th century, and the nadir was reached in the first half of the 20th century when France, surrounded by the rapidly growing populations of Germany and the United Kingdom, experienced virtually zero growth. This, and the bloody losses in France's population due to the First World War, may explain the sudden collapse of France in 1940 during the Second World War. France was often perceived as a country irremediably on the decline. At the time, theories based on races were quite popular, and the dramatic demographic decline of France was often attributed (particularly in Nazi Germany, and also in some conservative circles in England and elsewhere) to the genetic characteristics of the French "race", a race destined to fail in the face of the Germanic and Anglo-Saxon races. These racial theories were ironically proven wrong right when they were offered, as the population of French descent living in French Canada was in those days experiencing the fastest population growth that was ever achieved by any white people around the world (not even Russia in its wildest population growth of the 19th century).

To better understand the demographic decline of France, it should be noted that France was historically the largest nation of Europe. During the 17th century one fifth of Europe’s population was French. Between 1815 and 2000, if the population of France had grown at the same rate as the population of Germany during the same time period, France's population would be 110 million today. If it had grown at the same rate as England and Wales, France's population would be 150 million today. And if we start the comparison at the time of King Louis XIV (the Sun King), then France would have the same population as the United States! This helps understand why France was so overwhelming in Europe at the time of Louis XIV or Napoleon, and it shows how much of a demographic decline the country experienced after 1800.

Missing image
Two centuries of evolution

After 1945 however, France suddenly underwent a demographic recovery that no one could have foreseen. It is a fact that in the 1930s the French government, alarmed by the decline of France's population, had passed laws to boost the birth rate, giving state benefits to families with children. Nonetheless, no one can quite satisfactorily explain this sudden and unexpected recovery in the demography of France, which was often portrayed as a "miracle" inside France. This demographic recovery was again atypical in the Western World, in the sense that although the rest of the Western World experienced a baby-boom immediately after the war, the baby boom in France was much stronger, and above all it lasted longer than in the other countries of the Western World. In the 1950s and 1960s France enjoyed a population growth of 1% a year, which is the highest growth in the history of France, not even matched in the best periods of the 18th or 19th centuries!

After 1975, France's population growth has significantly diminished, being more in tune with the rest of Europe, but it still remains slightly faster than in the rest of Europe, and much faster than in the end of the 19th century or the first half of the 20th century. At the turn of the millennium, population growth in France is the fastest of Europe, matched only by Ireland and the Netherlands. However, it is significantly slower than in North America, where population trends have diverged from Europe after the 1970s.

The ranking below will help understand the past, present, and future weight of France's population in Europe and in the world:
(historical populations are counted in the 2004 borders)

  • until 1795 metropolitan France was the most populous country of Europe, above even Russia, and the third most populous country in the world, behind only China and India
  • between 1795 and 1866, metropolitan France was the second most populous country of Europe, behind Russia, and the fourth most populous country in the world, behind China, India, and Russia
  • between 1866 and 1911, metropolitan France was the third most populous country of Europe, behind Russia and Germany
  • between 1911 and 1931, metropolitan France was the fourth most populous country of Europe, behind Russia, Germany, and the United Kingdom
  • between 1931 and 1991, metropolitan France was the fifth most populous country of Europe, behind Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Italy
  • between 1991 and 1997, metropolitan France recovered its rank as the fourth most populous country of Europe, behind Russia, Germany, and the United Kingdom
  • since 1997, metropolitan France has recovered its rank as the third most populous country of Europe, behind Russia and Germany. Worldwide, France's ranking has fallen to twentieth most populous country.
  • if current demographic trends continue (i.e. declining population in Germany, and slightly rising population in France), around 2050 metropolitan France could become again the second most populous country of Europe behind Russia


Net migration rate: 0.66 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2000 est.)

In the late twentieth century, France exhibited a high rate of immigration. More than 1 million Muslims immigrated in the 1960s and early 1970s from North Africa, especially Algeria. At the end of 1994, there were about 5 million persons of Muslim descent living in France.

Ethnic groups

Celtic and Latin with Teutonic, Slavic, African and North African, Indochinese, Basque minorities


Main articles: French language, Languages of France


Main article: Education in France

Education is free, beginning at age 2, and mandatory between ages 6 and 16. The public education system is highly centralized. Private primary and secondary education is primarily Roman Catholic. Higher education in France began with the founding of the University of Paris in 1150. It now consists of 69 universities and special schools, such as the Grandes Écoles, technical colleges, and vocational training institutions.

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99%
male: 99%
female: 99% (1980 est.)

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