Elisa, a young French friend chez nous
This morning I read an interesting article in the NY Times stating that unmarried mothers have surpassed married ones in the USA. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/18/us/for-women-under-30-most-births-occur-outside-marriage.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha2
Here in FRance , I believe that has been the case for a long time due to legislation that encourages and protects mother and child.
There is also the Pacs legislation that awards social security benefits to couples living together ( not married) who sign on as a PACed couple. I know several couples living together with this arrangement and many more unmarried parents than I knew in the States. The stigma of unmarried parents is much less prevalent here among educated parents than in the USA (despite it still being a country registered largely as Catholic).
I googled this article that I have shortened and paraphrased. It was written in 2003 but I believe is generally still true of the legislation in place. The article was written by Council on Contemporary FAmilies Intern, RAchel Henneck.
FRANCEFrench family policy shows a more comprehensive commitment to offering choices to all working mothers, than say the USA. Italy, Germany or Japan. The French never set out the way other countries did to place mothers back in the home:
The first paid maternity leave was introduced in 1913 (Lewis 166), and public child care is more affordable and widely available than in these other countries. In addition, France offers generous family allowances and parental leave benefits that were conceived of as replacement of foregone wages.
Even though generous parental leave benefits and universal family allowances make it possible for more French women to stay home, almost the same proportion of French women as American women are employed (respectively 46 percent and 47 percent).
But many US women work part time; a higher proportion of French women work full time, especially single mothers, in large part because they have access to high-quality, state-run, subsidized child care. In France, 25 percent of zero- to two-year-olds and 95 percent of three- to five-year-olds are in public child care (Lewis 170, 164). As of 1995, 78.8 percent of women between 25 and 39 (those most likely in their childbearing years) were employed (Trifiletti 83).
In recent years, however, means-testing of benefits has been promoted. This emphasis on vertical redistribution may encourage lower-income women in particular to stay at home, because these women may also receive pronatalist benefits that pay more and give longer leave for third births.
Means-tested allowances have benefited single wage earners more than working wives because single-mothers' income is likely to be lower, so they are more likely to qualify for additional benefits (Lewis 167). Recently, the number of lone mothers receiving the means-tested lone parent allowance has increased.
France offers all women workers a paid, job-protected maternity leave six weeks before and 10 weeks after the births of the first two children, eight weeks before and 18 weeks after the birth of the third child, 34 weeks (12 prenatally) for twins and 42 weeks (24 prenatally) for multiple births. Maternity leave, pre- and postnatally, is mandatory (Ruhm and Teague 135). The benefit paid over maternity leave is equal to the woman's net salary, within certain limits. For insured mothers, benefits equal 80 percent of earnings for up to 16 weeks for the first and second child, 26 weeks for subsequent children and 46 weeks for multiple births (International Reform Monitor).
At the end of the maternity leave, paid parental leave is available to either parent until the child turns three or if at least two children at home need care. The parent is then re-integrated into the previous or a similar job. Women are virtually the only employees to take parental leave, despite its availability to fathers.
Younger children are entitled to places in full-day child care centers (creches) and sometimes family day care. Beginning at age two and a half or three, children are served in all-day preschool programs, the ecoles maternelles, for which families pay on a sliding scale. Lower-income families usually pay nothing and better-off families pay no more than 10 to 15 percent of their income for this service (Gornick and Meyers 3).
Nearly all children enroll in ecoles maternelles, even if they have an at-home parent, because these nursery schools have become such an effective mode of socialization, education and cultural reproduction (Bergmann 30). The schools are very important in preparing the vocabulary and communication skills of young children for the social and academic rigors of the first grade (Stanley).
France also offers allowances to defray the costs of hiring child care, at home or in registered facilities, for children under three (International Reform Monitor).
In France, about 4.4 of 1,000 women were married in 1995-a rate almost half that of the US (European Institute of Women's Health), and for women, the average age at first marriage is currently about 28. For men, it's about 30 (Ford).
The age at first marriage has increased by about five years over the past twenty years, mostly because couples are more and more likely to spend several years cohabiting prior to legal marriage (Ford).
Pushed by awareness of cohabitants as a growing demographic group and the gay and lesbian rights movement, France has politically accepted the trend toward cohabitation and legally acknowledged the need for homo- and heterosexual cohabitants to have legal rights for themselves as a couple and for whatever children they might have.
In 1999 France enacted the Civil Solidarity Pact law (Pacs), a new code giving legal stature to gay and straight couples traditionally considered unmarried (Q Online). The registered contract is available to couples of non-relatives of the same or opposite sex.
Couples are treated as partners for social security purposes and after three years their income is taxed as if they were married. Property relations are determined by the couple's own contract and the Pacs is terminated by mutual agreement or if one partner marries (Martin and Thery 150-151).
France's divorce rate is about the same as America's. No-fault, mutual-consent divorce was introduced in 1975 (Martin and Thery 144).