France has fared relatively better on key social metrics such as health and fertility than its European peers since the global financial crisis of 2008, according to a study released by the national statistics office INSEE on Wednesday.
The two recessions that followed the 2007/2008 financial crisis hit European countries differently, with the mostly southern, heavily indebted 'peripheral' countries such as Greece and Portugal coming under pressure to cut their welfare spending while northern European countries were broadly spared.
"France finds itself in the middle ground of European countries, but it also is in a peculiar position," Fabrice Lenglart, head of social statistics at INSEE, told reporters.
"Although it's in the lower average when it comes to the impact of the crisis on the labor market, France is doing much better in terms of health spending and fertility," he said.
Despite a sharp rise in unemployment, France claimed the top position in the European Union in terms of the fertility rate in 2013, overtaking Ireland with two children per woman, just below the 2.1 level which guarantees a stable population.
In southern European countries, where unemployment rates have shot up, fertility rates have declined sharply since 2008 from already low levels, falling below 1.4 children per woman in Spain, Portugal and Greece.
INSEE's Lenglart said well-established family benefits and childcare provisions that encourage women not to give up work when they have children explained France's performance.
Austerity programs also had a massive impact on the proportion of health spending that patients have to pay out of their pockets in southern European countries and Ireland.
The crisis reversed long-term declines in Italy and Spain, with the latter seeing an increase from 18.6 percent to 21.8 percent. In France, however, the crisis had no visible impact: French patients fared the best in Europe, with seven percent of out-of-pocket expenses in healthspending since 2000.
As it forced many people to put off visits to the doctor, austerity took its toll on life expectancy in many European countries but in France this metric remained stable.
INSEE said the number of healthy life years dropped in Italy to 60.9 years in 2013 from 62.6 in 2007, and to 65.1 years in Greece from 67.6 before the economic crisis. French people are expected to live 64.4 years in good health on average.