[Weekender] French child care system provides lessons

By Korea Herald
  • Published : May 30, 2014 - 21:09
  • Updated : May 30, 2014 - 21:10
Dana Kapelian (Dana Kapelian)
While extremely low birthrates have created a demographic drag on wealthy nations, France has bucked the trend.

France broke out of what some experts have called a “baby recession,” a birthrate that is consistently lower than the replacement rate of 2.1, with an estimated 2.08 births per woman in 2014, higher than the 2.01 for the United States, a country with a historically higher birthrate than its European counterparts.

Even though they have become the target of cutbacks by President Francois Hollande, France supports women and their families with generous welfare policies, including diverse child care packages, cash stipends, tax breaks and other help. Generous government support has made France family friendly.

Dana Kapelian certainly thinks so. The professional photographer and mother of two stressed that without such help it would have been very tough to raise a family. Government support made raising her son and daughter possible.

If Korea is intent on ending its “baby recession,” then perhaps it could learn something from fertile France.

“The French system has made many big changes. Education is free. Public education is pretty good,” she said. “France has an excellent infrastructure for mothers and babies in terms of child care and preschool.”

Kapelian came to Seoul 3 1/2 years ago with her husband, who works at Institut Francais. They have a 20-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter. Since she and her family arrived here, Kapelian has continued working. She had two photo exhibitions here and published a photo-essay book, “My Korean Women: From Tradition to Self Reinvention.”
Children enjoy a play session provided by a community toy library at the Vivier Park in Ecully, west of Lyon, France, Wednesday. (Kim Yoon-mi/

“(French) society is made for people to have children and to help them. We have maternity leave. Men have many rights as well,” she said. “I think that is the reason they do have (children). They have some kind of support system.”

Nearly free child care might seem unbelievable to the average woman thinking about starting a family in Korea, where child care is scarce and costly.

France allocates 33 percent of its GDP to public social spending, according to OECD figures. While that is higher than the average of 21 percent for the 34 wealthy nations, South Korea allocates just 9 percent.

The allocation of resources might not entirely explain why France has a higher birthrate. Another factor could be that mothers trust a child care system in which children are enrolled in some sort of long-term care from as early as infancy.

Kapelian said the French government has a variety of child care services, which give women many choices from public facilities that specialize in every-day, all-day care to one where a professional au pair cares for a few families in the privacy of one’s home. The common factor in every case is the dominant role of the national government in regulating and extending support.

In France, almost all toddlers complete some form of part- or full-time nursery school, or home-based day care with a nanny, before beginning public preschool, according to one report.

“I personally do not think it is good to do it, but child care centers accept babies as young as 3 months. So, if mothers have to do that for some reason, they have an option.”

That option and the flexibility to utilize child care on a use-as-needed basis could go far in explaining why so many French women are also opting for motherhood.

“Women’s work at home should be subsidized. We should help them care for her children, especially if she has to work most of the day outside the home,” Kapelian said. “We should not give a lot of value to people’s work outside the home while we neglect the work raising children inside the home.”

By Philip Iglauer (