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France performs very well in many measures of well-being, as shown by the fact that it ranks among the top ten countries in several topics in the Better Life Index.
Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards. In France, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is 28 310 USD a year, more than the OECD average of 23 047 USD a year. But there is a considerable gap between the richest and poorest – the top 20% of the population earn more than four times as much as the bottom 20%.
In terms of employment, 64% of people aged 15 to 64 in France have a paid job, below the OECD employment average of 66%. Some 68% of men are in paid work, compared with 60% of women. People in France work 1 476 hours a year, less than the OECD average of 1 776 hours. Around 9% of employees work very long hours, in line with the OECD average, with 12% of men working very long hours compared with 5% for women.
Having a good education is an important requisite for finding a job. In France, 71% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, close to the OECD average of 74%. There is little difference between men and women, as 72% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 70% of women. In terms of the quality of the education system, the average student scored 497 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), in line with the OECD average. On average in France, girls outperformed boys by 7 points, close to the average OECD gap of 9 points.
In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in France is 82 years, higher than the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 86 years, compared with 79 for men. The level of atmospheric PM10 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 13 micrograms per cubic meter, considerably lower than the OECD average of 21 micrograms per cubic meter. France performs somewhat less well in terms of water quality, as 81% of people say they are satisfied with the quality of their water, below the OECD average of 84%.
Concerning the public sphere, there is a strong sense of community and high levels of civic participation in France, where 93% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, higher than the OECD average of 90%. Voter turnout, a measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process, was 80% during recent elections, higher than the OECD average of 72%. Social and economic status can affect voting rates; voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is 89% and for the bottom 20% it is 79%, less than the OECD average gap of 12 percentage points.
In general, French people are more satisfied with their lives than the OECD average, with 83% of people saying they have more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc). This figure is slightly higher than the OECD average of 80%.
OECD in Action
OECD Economic Surveys: France 2013
OECD's 2013 Economic Survey of France examines recent economic developments, policies and prospects and includes special chapters covering taxes and transfers and the conomic situation of young people.Read this report
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France in Detail
Housing – France expand
Living in satisfactory housing conditions is one of the most important aspects of people’s lives. Housing is essential to meet basic needs, such as shelter, but it is not just a question of four walls and a roof. Housing should offer a place to sleep and rest where people feel safe and have privacy and personal space; somewhere they can raise a family. All of these elements help make a house a home. And of course there is the question whether people can afford adequate housing.
Housing costs take up a large share of the household budget and represent the largest single expenditure for many individuals and families, by the time you add up elements such as rent, gas, electricity, water, furniture or repairs. In France, households on average spend 21% of their gross adjusted disposable income on keeping a roof over their heads, in line with the OECD average.
In addition to housing costs it is also important to examine living conditions, such as the average number of rooms shared per person and whether households have access to basic facilities. In France, 91% of people say they are satisfied with their current housing situation, more than the OECD average of 87%. This high level of subjective satisfaction reflects France’s good performance in objective housing indicators.
The number of rooms in a dwelling, divided by the number of persons living there, indicates whether residents are living in crowded conditions. Overcrowded housing may have a negative impact on physical and mental health, relations with others and children’s development. In addition, dense living conditions are often a sign of inadequate water and sewage supply. In France, the average home contains 1.8 rooms per person, more than the OECD average of 1.6 rooms per person. In terms of basic facilities, 99.4% of people in France live in dwellings with private access to an indoor flushing toilet, more than the OECD average of 97.8%
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Income – France expand
While money may not buy happiness, it is an important means to achieving higher living standards and thus greater well-being. Higher economic wealth may also improve access to quality education, healthcare and housing.
Household net-adjusted disposable income is the amount of money that a household earns each year after tax. It represents the money available to a household for spending on goods or services. In France, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is 28 310 USD a year, higher than the OECD average of 23 047USD.
Household financial wealth is the total value of a household’s financial worth. In France, the average household net financial wealth is estimated at 46 520 USD, higher than the OECD average of 40 516 USD. While the ideal measure of household wealth should include real assets (e.g. land and dwellings), such information is currently available for only a small number of OECD countries.
Despite a general increase in living standards across OECD countries over the past fifteen years, not all people have benefited from this to the same extent. In France, the average net adjusted disposable income of the top 20% of the population is an estimated 55 477 USD a year, whereas the bottom 20% live on an estimated 12 216 USD a year.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Jobs – France expand
Having a job brings many important benefits, including: providing a source of income, improving social inclusion, fulfilling one’s own aspirations, building self-esteem and developing skills and competencies. In France, nearly 64% of the working-age population aged 15 to 64 has a paid job. This figure is slightly lower than the OECD employment average of 66%. Employment rates are generally higher for individuals with a higher level of education; in France an estimated 80% of individuals with at least a tertiary education have a paid job, compared with an estimated 45% for those without an upper secondary education. This 35 percentage point difference is slightly smaller than the OECD average of 37 percentage points and suggests the job market in France is relatively inclusive.
Women are still less likely than men to participate in the labour market. In France, 60% of women have jobs. This is close to the OECD average but less than the 68% employment rate of men in France. This 8 percentage point gender difference however is smaller than the OECD average of 12 percentage points and suggests France could further improve employment opportunities for women but has generally been successful in addressing the constraints and barriers women face in accessing work.
Young people in France, aged 15-24, however, face difficulties, with an unemployment rate of 22.1% compared with the OECD average of 16.2%.
Unemployed persons are defined as those who are not currently working but are willing to do so and actively searching for work. Long-term unemployment can have a large negative effect on feelings of well-being and self-worth and result in a loss of skills, further reducing employability. In France, the percentage of the labour force that has been unemployed for a year or longer is currently at 3.8%, higher than the OECD average of 3.1%. There is little difference on average between men and women in the OECD area when it comes to long-term unemployment. In France, the long-term unemployment rate for women is slightly higher than for men, with respectively 4.0% and 3.7%.
The wages and other monetary benefits that come with employment are an important aspect of job quality. In France, people earn 37 505 US dollars per year on average, more than the OECD average of 34 466 USD. Not everyone earns that amount however. Whereas the top 20% of the population earn 45 292 USD per year, the bottom 20% live on 23 069 USD per year.
Another essential factor of employment quality is job security. Employees working on temporary contracts are more vulnerable than workers with an open-ended contract. In France, about 9% of total employees have a contract of 6 months or less, slightly lower than the average of 10% for 30 OECD countries. This figure suggests France has been successful in stabilising working contracts and encouraging open-ended contracts.
More ResourcesWell‑being in the workplace: Measuring job quality
Community – France expand
Humans are social creatures. The frequency of our contact with others and the quality of our personal relationships are thus crucial determinants of our well-being. Helping others can also make you happier. People who volunteer tend to be more satisfied with their lives than those who do not. Time spent volunteering also contributes to a healthy civil society. On average, people in France spend 1 minute per day in volunteering activities, less than the OECD average of 4 minutes per day. Around 35% reported having helped a stranger in the last month. This result is also lower than the OECD average of 48%, suggesting an increased risk of social isolation.
A strong social network, or community, can provide emotional support during both good and bad times as well as provide access to jobs, services and other material opportunities. In France, 93% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need, more than the OECD average of 90%. There is little difference between men and women, as 94% of men believe they have this kind of social support, compared with 93% of women. While gender has little impact on social network support, there is a relationship between the availability of social support on the one hand, and people’s education level, on the other. In France, around 90% of people who have completed primary education report having someone to count on for help in times of need, compared to 95% for people who attained tertiary education.
A weak social network can result in limited economic opportunities, a lack of contact with others, and eventually, feelings of isolation. Socially isolated individuals face difficulties integrating into society as a contributing member and fulfilling personal aspirations.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance OECD Insights: Human Capital
Education – France expand
A well-educated and well-trained population is essential for a country’s social and economic well-being. Education plays a key role in providing individuals with the knowledge, skills and competences needed to participate effectively in society and in the economy. Most concretely, having a good education greatly improves the likelihood of finding a job and earning enough money. Across OECD countries, 83% of people with university-level degrees have a job, compared with just below 56% for those with only a secondary school diploma. Lifetime earnings also increase with each level of education.
Following a decline in manual labour over previous decades, employers now favour a more educated labour force. High-school graduation rates therefore provide a good indication of whether a country is preparing its students to meet the minimum requirements of the job market. In France, 71% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, close to the OECD average of 74%. This is slightly truer of men than women, as 72% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 70% of women. This 2 percentage point difference is in line with the OECD average. Among younger people – a better indicator of France’s future – 84% of 25-34 year-olds have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, higher than the OECD average of 82%.
The French can expect to go through 16.4 years of education between the ages of 5 and 39, close to the OECD average of 16.5 years. This level of education expectancy echoes France’s good performance in the educational attainment of its 25-34 year-old population.
But graduation rates, while important, speak little to the quality of education received. The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reviews the extent to which students have acquired some of the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies. In 2009, PISA focused on examining students’ reading ability, skills in maths and level in sciences, as research shows that these skills are more reliable predictors of economic and social well-being than the number of years spent in school.
The average student in France scored 497 in reading literacy, maths and sciences, in line with the OECD average. On average, girls outperformed boys by 7 points, slightly less than the average OECD gap of 9 points.
The best-performing school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students. In France, the average difference in results, between the 20% with the highest socio-economic background and the 20% with the lowest socio-economic background, is 124 points, much higher than the OECD average of 99 points and one of the largest gaps amongst OECD countries. This suggests the school system in France tends to provide higher quality education for the better off.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Environment – France expand
The quality of our local living environment has a direct impact on our health. Having access to green spaces for example, is essential for quality of life. An unspoiled environment is a source of satisfaction, improves mental well-being, allows people to recover from the stress of everyday life and to perform physical activity. In France, 9% of people feel they lack access to green spaces, less than the 12 % average of OECD European countries.
Outdoor air pollution is one important environmental issue that directly affects the quality of peoples’ lives. Despite national and international interventions and decreases in major pollutant emissions, the health impacts of urban air pollution continue to worsen, with air pollution set to become the top environmental cause of premature mortality globally by 2050. Air pollution in urban centres, often caused by transport and the use of small-scale burning of wood or coal, is linked to a range of health problems, from minor eye irritation to upper respiratory symptoms in the short-term and chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer in the long-term. Children and the elderly may be particularly vulnerable.
PM10 – tiny particulate matter small enough to be inhaled into the deepest part of the lung – is monitored in OECD countries because it can harm human health and reduce life expectancy. In France, PM10 levels are 12.5 micrograms per cubic meter, much lower than the OECD average of 20.9 micrograms per cubic meter and much lower than the annual guideline limit of 20 micrograms per cubic meter set by the World Health Organization.
Access to clean water is fundamental to human well-being. Despite significant progress in OECD countries in reducing water pollution, improvements in freshwater quality are not always easy to discern. In France, 81% of people say they are satisfied with water quality,lower than the OECD average of 84%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance OECD Environmental Outlook to 2030
Governance – France expand
A cohesive society is one where citizens have a high degree of confidence in their governmental institutions and public administration. In France, 59% of people say they trust their political institutions, slightly more than the OECD average of 56%. High voter turnout is another measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process. In the most recent elections for which data is available, voter turnout in France was 80% of those registered. This figure is higher than the OECD average of 72%.
Even if the right to vote is universal in all OECD countries, not everyone exercises this right. There is little difference in the voting rates of men and women in most OECD countries. In France, however, men outvote women by more than 9 percentage points. Income can also have a strong influence on voter turnout. In France, voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is an estimated 89%, whereas the participation rate of the bottom 20% is an estimated 79%. This 10 percentage point difference is slightly lower than the OECD average difference of 12 percentage points, and suggests there is broad social inclusion in France’s democratic institutions.
Ensuring that government decision making is not compromised by conflicts of interest is key to maintaining trust in government. Transparency is therefore essential to hold government to account and to maintain confidence in public institutions.
Freedom of information laws (FOI) allow the possibility for individuals to access undisclosed information. For such policies to be successful, the public should have a clear understanding of their rights under the law, should be able to file requests with ease and should be protected against any possible retaliation. French citizens can file a request for information either in writing, online, by telephone or in person – thus greatly facilitating the FOI process. However, there are no provisions for anonymity or protection from retaliation.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Health – France expand
Most OECD countries have enjoyed large gains in life expectancy over the past decades, thanks to improvements in living conditions, public health interventions and progress in medical care. Life expectancy at birth in France stands at 82 years, two years above the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 86 years, compared with 79 for men, close to the average OECD gender gap of six years with a life expectancy of 83 years for women and 77 for men.
Higher life expectancy is generally associated with higher healthcare spending per person, although many other factors have an impact on life expectancy (such as living standards, lifestyles, education and environmental factors). Total health spending accounts for 11.6% of GDP in France or more than two percentage points above the OECD average of 9.5%. This figure makes France third in terms of health spending relative to GDP, with only the United States (17.6%) and the Netherlands (12.0%) spending more. France also ranks above the OECD average in terms of total health spending per person, at 3974 USD in 2010 compared with an OECD average of 3268 USD. Between 2000 and 2009, total health spending in Franceincreased in real terms by 2.7% per year on average, a slightly slower growth rate than the OECD average of 4.7%. This growth rate then slowed down to 1.3% in 2010.
Throughout the OECD, tobacco consumption and excessive weight gain remain two important risk factors for many chronic diseases. In France, while the proportion of adults who smoke daily has decreased from 30% in 1980 to 23.3% today, it remains higher than the OECD average of 21.1%. In many OECD countries, large proportions of the population are overweight or obese. At 12.9% obesity rates in France based on self-reported height and weight are well below the OECD average of 17.8% and among the lowest in the OECD, but have been increasing steadily. Obesity’s growing prevalence foreshadows increases in the occurrence of health problems (such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and asthma), and higher health care costs in the future.
When asked, “How is your health in general?” 67% of people in France reported to be in good health, less than the OECD average of 69%. Despite the subjective nature of this question, answers have been found to be a good predictor of people’s future health care use. Gender, age and social status may affect answers to this question. On average in OECD countries, men are more likely to report good health than women, with an average of 71% for men and 66% for women. In France, the average is 71% for men and 64% for women. Not surprisingly, older people report poorer health, as do those who are unemployed, or who have less education or income. About 73% of the top 20% of the adult population in France rated their health as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, compared to about 60% for the bottom 20%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Life Satisfaction – France expand
Happiness or subjective well-being can be measured in terms of life satisfaction, the presence of positive experiences and feelings, and the absence of negative experiences and feelings. Such measures, while subjective, are a useful complement to objective data to compare the quality of life across countries.
Life satisfaction measures how people evaluate their life as a whole rather than their current feelings. It captures a reflective assessment of which life circumstances and conditions are important for subjective well-being. When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, French people gave it a 6.6 grade, in line with the OECD average.
There is little difference in life satisfaction levels between men and women across OECD countries. This is true in France, where men gave their life a 6.7 grade and women 6.6. Education levels, however, strongly influence subjective well-being. Whereas people who have only completed primary education in France have a life satisfaction level of 5.9, this score reaches 7.2 for people with tertiary education.
Happiness, or subjective well-being is also measured by the presence of positive experiences and feelings, and/or the absence of negative experiences and feelings. In France, 83% of people reported having more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc). This figure is slightly higher than the OECD average of 80%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Safety – France expand
Personal security is a core element for the well-being of individuals, and largely reflects the risks of people being physically assaulted or falling victim to other types of crime. Across the OECD, assault rates have generally declined in the past five years. In France, about 5.0% of people reported falling victim to assault over the previous 12 months, more than the OECD average of 4.0%. There is a difference of more than 1 percentage point between men and women in assault rates, at respectively 5.6% and 4.4%.
The homicide rate (the number of murders per 100,000 inhabitants) is a more reliable measure of a country’s safety level because, unlike other crimes, murders are usually always reported to the police. According to the latest OECD data, France’s homicide rate is 1.1, lower than the OECD average of 2.2. In France, the homicide rate for men is 1.5 compared with 0.7 for women.
Fear of crime is another important indicator as it can constrain behaviour, restrict freedom and threaten the foundation of communities. Despite a general reduction in assault rates in the past five years, in many OECD countries feelings of security have declined. In France, 65% of people feel safe walking alone at night, slightly lower than the OECD average of 67%. While men are at a greater risk of being victims of assaults and violent crimes, women report lower feelings of security than men. This has been explained by a greater fear of sexual attacks, the feeling they must also protect their children and their concern that they may be seen as partially responsible.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Work-Life Balance – France expand
Finding a suitable balance between work and life is a challenge for all workers, especially working parents. Some couples would like to have (more) children, but do not see how they could afford to stop working. Other parents are happy with the number of children in their family, but would like to work more. This is a challenge to governments because if parents cannot achieve their desired work/life balance, not only is their welfare lowered but so is development in the country.
People spend one-tenth to one-fifth of their time on unpaid work. The distribution of tasks within the family is still influenced by gender roles: men are more likely to spend more hours in paid work, while women spend longer in unpaid domestic work. Men in France, spend 136 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring, more than the OECD average of 131 minutes but still less than French women who spend 258 minutes per day on average on domestic work.
Another important aspect of work-life balance is the amount of time a person spends at work. Evidence suggests that long work hours may impair personal health, jeopardize safety and increase stress. People in France work 1 476 hours a year, much less than the OECD average of 1 776 hours. The share of employees working more than 50 hours per week is not very large across OECD countries. In France, around 9% of employees work very long hours, in line with the OECD average. Overall, men spend more hours in paid work: in France 12% of men work very long hours, compared with 5% for women.
The more people work, the less time they have to spend on other activities, such as time with others or leisure. The amount and quality of leisure time is important for people’s overall well-being, and can bring additional physical and mental health benefits. People in France devote 68% of their day, or 15.3 hours, to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc.) and leisure (socializing with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer and television use, etc.) – more than the OECD average of 14.9 hours. Fewer hours in paid work for women do not necessarily result in greater leisure time. In France, men devote nearly 16 hours per day to personal care and leisure and women approximately 15 hours per day.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Greater gender equality can be achieved in France
France performs well in a number of important dimensions of work-life balance: fertility is above the OECD average; the employment rate of women aged 25 to 54 is above the OECD average, and 80% of them work full-time; and despite a recent slight increase, child poverty concerns 8% of children aged from 0 to 17 and is well below the OECD average (12.75%). These positive outcomes go hand-in-hand with high investment in family policies across the different stages of childhood.
Despite these positive outcomes, access to the labour market of mothers of young or large families could be improved but would likely require a more equal share of caring activities between parents. A greater involvement of fathers in care activities after childbirth is likely to facilitate the return to work of mothers. However, fathers are currently not encouraged to take parental leave beyond the 10 days of paid paternity leave. French tax reliefs and benefits do help households to bear the cost of large families. However, these families can still be close to or fall below the poverty threshold when one parent does not work or is on parental leave. In France, parents of two or more children can leave employment or reduce working time after childbirth and receive a flat-rate childcare benefit for up to three years. Women with low earnings, and working hours that make it difficult to cope with childcare commitments, are more likely to completely stop working for three years and receive full-benefit.