France overtook Ireland as the fertility champion of Europe in 2007
France overtook Ireland as the fertility champion of Europe in 2007 but a majority of babies are now being born out of wedlock, according to new census figures released on Tuesday.
With 1.98 children per woman, France's fertility rate is now ahead of Ireland on 1.90, according to the latest government figures, and well above the European Union average of 1.52.
Babies born to unmarried couples represented 50.5 percent of all French births in 2007, compared to 48.4 percent the previous year and merely 5.9 percent in 1965, according to the French national statistics institute INSEE.
Sociologist Irene Thery told Le Parisien newspaper this was the "logical outcome of a major revolution... Gradually, it's the child who has come to make the family, not the marriage."
Pro-birth public policies, including free universal public schooling from the age of three, and the childcare subsidies for infants are credited in part with the increase in fertility.
With a total of 816,500 babies born last year, France's fertility rate has dipped slightly since 2006, however, when it passed the symbolic mark of two children per woman.
The average age of first-time mothers, rising year on year, stood at 29.8 years.
France's overall population -- comprising mainland France and overseas territories -- totalled 63.753 million on January 1, 2008, swelling by 400,000 since the previous year.
But despite a high fertility rate, the French population continued to age, with over 65 year-olds making up 16.3 percent of the total, compared to 15 percent in 1994.
French women had Europe's longest life expectancy, with a girl born in 2007 expected to live 84.4 years, and a boy 77.5 years -- a three-month increase on 2006 in both cases.