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The Situation in France

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The Situation in France


Giroud, Gabriel


Gabriel Giroud's report on the French birth control situation, covers the effects of the 1920 law banning contraception, small families on the French economy, the pro-natalist government and culture in France and efforts to promote birth control despite the opposition.


Hardy, G.
Giroud, Gabriel, 1870-1945


Margaret Sanger, ed. International Aspects of Birth Control (New York, 1925), 33-40.


American Birth Control League




Hajo, Cathy Moran,
De Bel, Heather (transcription)


The American Birth Control League became Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1939.







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By the law passed in 1920, all practical Birth Control propaganda in France was absolutely suppressed. Therefore we have no record of progress concerning any organized movement to lay before you. But as this action of the French Government, combined with the continual outcry that France is a dying nation, has been continually urged by our opponents as a strong argument against Birth Control, I hope that a review of the situation in France, exposing the fallacies of our opponents, may be of greatest interest and importance.

First of all, France is not and never has been a "dying nation," in the sense that the number of deaths exceed that of births. It is only a nation of very slow natural increase. True, there have been a few individual years in which the deaths exceeded the births; but such years occurred long ago, when the birth rate was much higher than it is now.

France has been cited as a disproof of the Malthusian law of overpopulation, but affords really its strongest verification. According to the Malthusian law an excessive birth-rate means a combined pressure against the food supply, so that the rate of increase in food, and any excess of births simply means an excess of deaths without any greater increase of population. This is the reason why high birth rates are always associated with high death rates, except in the newly settled fertile countries, and why the death rate practically always falls as the birth rate falls in normal circumstances.

Now, how is the food supply of a nation to be increased? Either its internal agricultural production must be increased by taking in new land or improving the cultivation of already cultivated land, or the import of food from abroad must be increased, which can only be done by increasing the exports to pay for it. But France was the first country in Europe to extend its agriculture to the highest pitch; and during the past century there have been few possibilities either of taking in fresh land or increasing the output of the old, Hence, increase of its internal food production must necessarily be extremely low. Again, as regards export of manufactured goods, France has very little coal and iron and other mineral resources, so that it has been practically impossible for her to compete successfully with nations of richer natural resources, such as Great Britain, Germany and the United States. Without going into actual statistics, therefore, which are difficult to obtain, it is obvious that the rate of increase of subsistence in France must be very small and that its excess of births over deaths must also be very small, however great the birth rate may be.

The actual course of the birth and death rates in France during more than a century amply verifies this conclusion. In the years 1771 to 1774, before the revolution, the birth rate of France was given as about 39 per 1,000--higher than the highest figure known for England. But instead of this high birth rate producing a rapid increase of population, it only caused the excessively high death rate of about 37 per 1,000, leaving a natural increase of only 2 per 1,000.

From 1784 to 1800 we have no figures owing to the revolutionary period, but from 1801 they were revived, and the first thing noticeable is a striking drop in the birth rate to 32 for the decade 1801-10, but instead of this having wiped out the natural increase, the death rate dropped to 28, so that the natural increase had actually risen to 4 per 1,000. This would be explained on the Malthusian hypothesis by the fact ( a ) that the revolution reduced the total population of the country and this provided room for increase; ( b ) that the land of the nobles was divided up among the peasants who became their own landlords, and had the best opportunity and incentive for increasing their productivity. But the Napoleonic law of inheritance gave a strong a strong incentive to family limitation, and the birth rate went on falling to 31 in the decade 1821-30.

With every fall of the birth rate, the death rate fell even more, so that the natural increase actually rose to 6 per thousand that decade. After this, the advantages of the new regime appear to have nearly been fully utilised, and further falls of the birth rate, though accompanied by a slow fall in the death rate, resulted in the return of the rate of natural increase to the pre-revolution figure of 2 per thousand in 1871-80. In the decade 1891-1900, when the birth rate had fallen to just over 22 per thousand, the rate of increase was only about 0.5 per 1,000, and a great cry of "race-suicide" went up; but a further fall of the death rate to 19.2 raising the rate of increase to 1.5 per 1,000, or nearly as great as the increase when the birth rate was 39. During and since the war there has been a great fall and rise in the birth rate, but now it seems to be settling to a figure of about 18.5 per 1,000, with a death rate of 16.9, leaving the rate of increase at 1.6 per thousand.

All this is consistent with the hypothesis that France has always been an overpopulated country with a normal increase of supporting power of 2 per thousand, and if this is true, it indicates that the rate of increase of population in France has not been in any way diminished by the great fall in its birth rate, and indeed that if its original birth rate of 39 had been maintained, it would still have a death rate of 37 with all the misery this high death rate implies. now, in a slowly increasing country of little migration like France, our President has shown that the average duration of life is obtained by dividing 1,000 by the mean between the birth and death rate. Consequently, in 1781-4 when the birth rate was 39 and the death rate 37, the average length of life of the French people was 1000/38 or about 26 years, whereas now, with a birth rate of 18.5 and a death rate of 16.9, it would be 1000/17.7, or about 56 years, so that the fall of the birth rate has resulted in more that doubling the average length of life, without reducing the increase of population--a result of which Birth Controllers may well be proud.

And this benefit is well reflected in the present economic state of France. While practically every other country is suffering more or less severely from unemployment and overcrowding, France today has literally no unemployment. Indeed, the demand for labor is such that even old people can easily find employment, and France in addition to finding work for all her own people, has absorbed nearly 250,000 workers from other countries without any dislocation of industry, or protest on the part of its own people.

It may be said that if France can support these foreigners it could easily support a greater population of its own, but this again implies ignorance of the true nature of the over-population problem. Children are not born fully equipped for productive work; they have to be supported and educated for 18-29 years before they become productive, so that they are actually a drain on the resources of the community until they are mature. The foreign workers are already fully fledged producers, and are in most cases unmarried, so that they actually help support the French population.

And as regards the housing question, France is probably in a better condition than any other country in Europe at the present time. She has rapidly rebuilt her devastated towns and there is little trouble from want of housing accommodation at the present time.

France has also provided a complete answer to the contention of the late President Roosevelt and other distinguished authorities that and average of four births per family is necessary to maintain the race. Dr. Leroy Beaulieu--an opponent of Birth Control--has shown in his book "La Question de Population" that over a long period the average number of births per marriage in France was only 2.5, yet over that period the French population was steadily increasing by excess of births over deaths, in spite of a fairly high infantile mortality.

There is no reason for supposing that the advantages which have resulted from the fall of the birth rate in France have reached their limit, and that a further fall of the birth rate will result in depopulation. The average duration of life in France, although probably as high as in any other country of Europe, is yet far short of a natural maximum, and while this is the case, we may predict that still further falls of the birth rate and an undiminished natural increase in population.

And a much greater progress would certainly be obtained, if the French government, instead of suppressing Birth Control, would facilitate its extension to the poorest and least fit classes. France is not so seriously trouble with the problem of what is called the C3 class as many other countries, But the national physique and prosperity would certainly be improved if the poorest classes were encouraged to restrict instead of to increase their families. At present numerous measures have been voted or decreed for encouraging overpopulation--importation of labor, prizes for births, premiums to women in childbirth and vacation for pregnant women officials, reductions of rent and of travelling charges, relief of taxation, and of military service, indemnities for family burdens for officials, and even medals for mothers of large families. It is proposed to institute a family vote, and an attempt is being made to apply a system which would increase the wages of fathers of large families; the "family super-wage."

The action of the State is assisted by that of individuals, the great business man, Prizes are distributed and dowries, some of which are very valuable, are given to large families. The French Academy awards about ten such dowries. One of these which emanates from a Parisian business man permits the awarding of 90 prizes of 25,000 francs each to poor families compromising at least 9 children, living or killed in the war, and from the one marriage.

M. Michelin, the great manufacturer of automobile tires, has instituted a competition with prizes amounting to 120,000 francs, for a pamphlet vaunting the benefits of a large population. Five hundred thousand of these pamphlets have been printed. Active societies, favored and subsidised by the State, multiply their efforts to prevent "denatalite." Of these the principal in "The League for Increasing the French Population." The whole press, whether of the right or of the left, assists the government and follows its directions.

In July, 1920, a law was passed which punished by fine and imprisonment all anti-conceptional propaganda. Article 3 of this law menaces even "anyone who conducts a propaganda...against the birth rate" with a fine of from 100 to 500 francs and from one month up to six months' imprisonment. This law, which violates the fundamental principle of the famous declaration of the Rights of Man, permits a complete denial of justice. No further propaganda is possible under these conditions. Some militant propagandists have been prosecuted, condemned, imprisoned and ruined. Among these our comrade Eugene Humbert, to whom I call your special attention, has been the principle victim.

It is scarcely necessary to add that the preventive or repressive action of the government has had no effect on the French conduct. The birth rate has not increase since the application of the law; quite the contrary. Immediately after the return of the men from the war a high marriage rate ensued, and the birth rate in 1921 was 20.7, but it fell to 19.4 in 1922, and to about 18.6 in 1923 with a death rate of 16.9, giving a survival rate of about 1.7, or a total natural increase of population of 70,000. none of the French militant New-Malthusians are discouraged. They know the cause is won. It is only poverty which compels them to silence. as soon as the circumstance and the means to recommend their activities are available, they will not fail.

Already men of importance and of independent thought have risen against the Draconian measures established by the national bloc. In important works Dr. Beltrani, professor of the School of Medicine of Marseilles; Dr. Lascaux, and Dr. Gottschalk, have shown or suggested the futility or injuriousness of special laws concerning Birth Control propaganda.

But it is important that the workers of other countries should assist the task of the French propagandists. They can do so by redoubling the energy of their own efforts. it is important that the fundamental objection of the French nationalists should fall. This objection is that since the population of Germany, and of Italy, increase rapidly, France is thereby placed in a state of inferiority, especially from the military standpoint. When all the European countries have taken France as their model in this respect, our nationalists, so often mistaken, will use this argument in calling for births.

A Congress such as the present should be the precursor of an entente and of an international action towards obtaining complete liberty of New-Malthusian propaganda in all countries. The day when throughout the world the good sense and beneficial action of New-Malthusianism is recognized, will be the end of the social inferiority of womanhood, and of war and human misery.

A human race, composed principally of individuals desired and engendered by healthy parents, a race purified of all physical and mental degenerates, and in a stable equilibrium, will replace that of today--daughter of chance and ignorance.