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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Une image de la société française dessinée par l’INSEE

by Yves Housson

French Society, as Depicted by the National Statistics Institute

Translated by Ann Drummond

Translated Saturday 17 June 2006, by Ann Drummond

Statistics on France. The publication "Social Data" reveals the transformations under way in the spheres of employment, education, working conditions and health, throwing social inequalities into sharp relief.

In its 12th edition of "Social Data", published today by the National Statistical Institute (INSEE), we are presented with a sweeping panorama of French society.(1) A triennial publication, it depicts the evolutions which have taken place in the areas of the general population and the family, in education, employment, working conditions, income, and health as well as the welfare system. Apart from INSEE, other contributors to this publication include ministerial statistical services and organisations such as the Institute of Demographic Studies (INED) and the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).(2) It is a work which comprises over 70 articles scanning society from every conceivable angle.

Within the scope of this article, it would be impossible to provide a complete summary of this extremely detailed picture. Yet as it unfolds, the text leaves the reader with the impression that the old social inequalities persist in France today, in some cases becoming worse, while fresh ones are also starting to emerge. This is what we find in the case of employment, which is scrutinised in 16 separate articles. In the space of 20 years, the level of insecure employment (fixed-term contracts, state-subsidised jobs for the long-term unemployed, work experience, temporary contracts) has doubled, reaching 10% of the overall total. Young people are "the preferred vehicles for these new types of more flexible employment" which are spreading throughout society. While they tend more and more to be graduates, and even if their diplomas still protect them from unemployment to a certain extent, they are increasingly experiencing a "drop in status" (where their educational qualifications are higher than those required for the job). Three years after graduation, this is the case for 20-28% of these young people. An overview of social and cultural backgrounds reveals just how important they are in finding work, which is more difficult for the son of a worker than a manager’s child, but also even more problematic (where the educational level and father’s profession are comparable) for the son of a North African immigrant than for a young person of European origin.

The links between the worlds of professional and private life are also put under the microscope. After noting the growing importance of flexible working hours (only one in two working days is still the standard 9-5) - "staggered", "irregular" or "split" - INSEE highlights the question of "marital concurrence" for the 6.8 million households in which both partners are working: "In 1999, less than one in two working days matched up. Lack of synchronism has increased by 20% since the mid-80s and mainly affects couples at the lower end of the social spectrum."

Taking a cross section of school, work and relationships, the position of women looks very different. Girls are more successful academically (69% get the baccalaureate, compared to 55% of boys) but the career divides remain: girls are overrepresented in the arts, and social and paramedical training, whereas boys are dominant in scientific and industrial fields. Women are increasingly taking part in the labour market (46% of the active population) but gender division in jobs "is not going away". Moreover, even in cases where both partners are working, the sharing of domestic chores is still very unequal: women do an average of 4 hours a day, men only 2.
And finally, in the chapter on health and social welfare, we are left with the "worrying prospect of retirement" for future generations (4) as well as having to face the facts about the huge challenge represented by dependent old people. And then there is the study showing how failing health can increase the risks of losing one’s job. Yet another injustice to add to this very well documented account of the "social side" of France.

Yves Housson

(1) Données sociales, 2006 edition. 667 pages. INSEE.
37 euros.

(2) The National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies (Institut National de la Statistique et des Études Économiques: INSEE) is a "General Directorate" of the French Ministry of the Economy, Finance, and Industry (MINEFI). or Statistics and Economic Studies.

Article in English about the Données Sociales on INSEE website

(3) INED: L’Institut national d’études démographiques. http://www.ined.fr/

CNRS: Centre national de la recherche scientifique. http://www.cnrs.fr/

4. Article on pensions in same issue of L’Humanité (in French) : http://www.humanite.fr/journal/2006-05-11/2006-05-11-829577

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