The slow growth of France's population in the 19th century

Jul 2017
France had a very low birth rate during the 19th century when compared to the rest of Europe. This meant that the UK could catch up in terms of population and Germany could totally outstrip France. At the start of the century France's population relative to the rest of the continent wasn't far behind Russia's yet by the end of the century things had changed a lot. This shift would have very serious consequences in the following century.

Demographics of France - Wikipedia

France was for a long time the most populous country in Europe

"If the population of France had grown between 1815 and 2000 at the same rate as that of Germany during the same time period, France's population would have been 110 million in 2000. "
"If France's population had grown at the same rate as that of England and Wales (which was also siphoned off by emigration to the Americas, Australia and New Zealand), France's population could have been as much as 150 million in 2000."

The British or Germans had a much higher population growth, despite the fact that they emigrated much more abroad (USA)

Demographics of France - Wikipedia

"Until 1795 metropolitan France was the most populous country of Europe, ahead of Russia, and the fourth most populous country in the world, behind only China, India and Japan."

I'm not even talking about Russia.

List of countries by population in 1800 - Wikipedia

France population in 1800 : 26,758,000

Russia population in 1800 (without Ukraine) : 21,248,000

List of countries by population in 1900 - Wikipedia

France population in 1900 : 38,900,000

Russia population in 1900 : 87,162,000

The growth of the British population is also impressive.

My question is why was the French birth rate so low during the 19th century ?
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Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
Demography is a mystery.... But France was already very populous... Then there was the effect of the Napoleonic wars which negatively impacted population and population growth...... Then there were revolutions in 1830 and 1848 and then the war with prussia in 1870....

Meanwhile Germany and Russia grew territorially while France's territory in Europe shrunk somewhat - notably Alsace Lorraine was gained by Germany and lost by France in the 1870 war... that was some 2 mio people lost for France and gained by Germany, so a delta of 4 million....... plus France exported people to places like Canada....

And then there was prosperity... France, a relatively rich country, started a "demographic transition" (lower birth rates) somewhat earlier than other european countries
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Ad Honoris
May 2014
This thread might be of interest to you:

French Demographics in a 1st Empire victory scenario.

As might this post of mine within that thread:

Apparently the French fertility decline was already being talked about as early as 1778 (so, 11 years before the French Revolution):

So, to answer your question, No, probably not.

BTW, here's an interesting map for you:

France was extraordinary in two large ways--its early fertility transition (and thus its low population growth between 1800 and 1945) and its early adoption of republican principles (in comparison to almost all other European countries).
Also, this post of mine right after that post in that very same thread might also be of interest to you:

Interestingly enough, there tended to be something of a pattern with the areas in France where cousin marriage was the most widespread experiencing a later fertility transition in comparison to the rest of France:

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Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
I've seen French historians making the observation about earlier French demographic history that France reached a kind of demographic saturation early, i.e. for the level of population the agricultural system at the time could sustain the land was pretty full pretty early. And then stabilized there. Occasionally there were massive famines or epidemics and a decent chunk of the population died off. And then it quickly bounced back to the pre-disaster level, and stabilized.

It might be that the French already before the 19th c. developed all manner of population-limiting practices adapted for an already high population density, and then with rising affluence, spread more generally, in the 19th c. this started to tell as declining birth-rates.

Because then, relatively, France shifted gear again after WWII.
Apr 2017
Could you imagine a France with close to 90 million in 1900? I don't think any nation with a direct land path to France could stop that France. Europe would have been conquered. I think it worked out better that France had a slow down even though I'm an ardent Francophile. I still prefer a power balance. I know France and the UK can stop Germany, but I'm not sure an alliance could have stopped a France with a population of 90 million, simply because France was usually perceived as a progressive nation and a path to liberation for the common peasants.


Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
A France with the same relative size of population today as it had at the eve of the Napoleonic wars would have been a 200 million beast. So, somewhat akin to the US in its reach and heft in international politics.
Dec 2011

I think we discussed the French population transgression already somewhere on this forum. And yes, I tried to reconstruct my former reasoning and came on the same Persée article of Etienne van de Walle, that I used in my former messages.
And yes, there, seems to be the key: that France had the population transgression nearly a century earlier than the rest of Europe, but why, and there tends Van de Walle to search for an answer by looking to the fertility of the women in France of that period and perhaps the reasons why they restricted the fertility. I read in the article about among others : "the coitus interruptus"
Further for the English speaking ones:
What is the Demographic Transition Model?
The Female Population of France in the 19th Century

Kind regards, Paul.