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Introduction | Questions to Consider | Source

A French Response to the Demographic Crisis: Bonuses for Babies
French National Assembly

At the end of the nineteenth century, many in Western Europe began to express concern with demographic trends; some even considered these trends a crisis, especially in France. Ardent nationalists, government leaders, and military planners were concerned that these trends would result in too few available recruits for the increasingly gargantuan armies. Social Darwinists contemplated sourly the decline in national "virility." This was an ironic turn of events, as earlier in the century, liberals, under the influence of Thomas Malthus's (1766-1834) theories on population, had maintained that working-class poverty resulted from the unrestrained reproduction of the poor. There were many contributing factors to this demographic trend of slow population growth: people marrying at a later age; families having fewer children; and women pursuing alternative lifestyles to that of wife and mother. Some governments responded with positive programs promoting population growth (in France, for example, the natalism movement was broad-based, enjoying the support of government, the Catholic Church, and many in the medical profession); all were concerned. Finally, in 1913, the French natalism movement bore fruit. The French law of 14 July 1913 (Bastille Day), presented in this document, is an example of the concern that population trends generated. The law also had wider and long-lasting implications.

Questions to Consider
  • What was the motivation behind the legislation?

  • What is the unspoken and long-term implication of Article 2?

Article 1
For large families allowances are a compulsory service for all dˇpartements, with the participation of the communes and the State.

Article 2
Every head of a family of French nationality, who is responsible for more than three legitimate or acknowledged children and whose resources are insufficient for their upbringing, receives an annual allowance for each child under thirteen years of age, after the third child under thirteen years of age.

Article 3
The rate of allowance is determined for each commune by the municipal council, subject to the approval of the General Council and the Minister of the Interior.

It may not be less than 60 francs per year per child, and not more than 90 francs; if the allowance exceeds 90 francs, the difference is the exclusive responsibility of the commune.

Source: Law of July 14, 1913, in David Thompson, ed., France: Empire and Republic, 1850-1940 (New York: Walker and Co., 1968), 285.