Countryaah data, France's average population density is 121 residents per
km2. About one fifth of the residents live in
the Paris metropolitan area. Other densely populated areas
are the Nord-Pas-de-Calais regions at the border with
Belgium, Alsace in the east, Haute-Normandie around the
Seine lower race, the Loire valley and in the southern part
of the country Côte d'Azur, and the areas around big cities
such as Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux.. The largest cities
are Paris (2.2 million residents, 2016, with suburbs 11.9
million), Marseille (862,000) and Lyon (515,700). Large
areas in central France, such as Burgundy, Limousin and
Auvergne (in the Central Massif), have been heavily
de-populated since the 19th century. These, like the regions
of the Pyrenees and Corsica, are largely sparsely populated.
Among the sparsely populated parts are also the rich
agricultural areas of the Paris basin, such as Champagne and
large parts of Beauce and Brie, which has long been a great
move to Paris. About 70 percent of the country's population
lives in cities.
France was, from the Middle Ages onwards, Europe's most
populous country, but has had a much slower population
increase than other countries. During the 19th century, when
the population of Europe multiplied, France's population did
not even increase by 50 percent, although emigration to
other parts of the world was rather insignificant. Large
losses during the First World War left difficult traces in
the population structure, and during the inter-war period
birth deficits occurred during certain years. Immediately
before World War II, immigration began to take on
significant proportions, a trend that has continued after
the Second World War.
Today, about 8 percent of the population is
first-generation immigrants. The largest groups of
immigrants are North Africans, Portuguese, Italians and
Spaniards. In addition, there are large groups from the rest
of Africa as well as Southeast Asians. This supplement has
played a significant role in reversing the trend in birth
rates surpassed by only a few countries in Western Europe.
More than one in ten children who are born have two
The sparsely populated, often less industrialized, areas
have for a long time had a large outpouring of large
population concentrations. This trend is still prevalent in
many sparsely populated areas, but in recent years several
of the densely populated regions have been affected by
large-scale relocation, while some traditional depopulation
districts have received relocation allowances. The biggest
move today is Corsica, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Lorraine,
Picardie and in fact the Paris region - Île-de-France. The
southern and southwestern parts of the country, especially
the coastal areas, on the other hand, have a significant
For information on life expectancy and other demographic
statistics, see Country facts.
French is the official and totally dominant language.
There are many linguistic minorities, which, however, may be
described as fully bilingual and the reduction in the number
of native speakers has accelerated. Among the indigenous
minority languages, which are spoken mainly in border areas
or in sparsely populated areas, 1999 were the largest German
dialects (spoken by 2.1%, mainly in Alsace), Occitan (spoken
by 1.3% mainly in Limousin, Auvergne and Provence-Alpes
–Côte d'Azur), oil dialects (Poitean, Gallic, etc. spoken by
1.3% in Northern France) and Breton (0.6% in Brittany).
Corsican, Catalan and Basque are locally significant.
France has since a fairly unique, conscious language
policy, language teaching and language care. Only French are
allowed within the school system. Dialects and minority
languages have been suppressed. The French language area
also exhibits a striking homogeneity in comparison with the
other major languages in Western Europe. However, in recent
decades, minority languages have gained a stronger position.
In 2001, Education Minister Jack Lang admitted that the
French state had suppressed the regional languages for 200
years and signaled a course change with the encouragement of
bilingual teaching in schools. Several languages and
dialects have gained official status as a regional language,
and especially in Brittany and Corsica, the regional
languages have experienced a certain renaissance. The
largest immigrant languages are Arabic, spoken by 2.6%, and
Through Klodvig's baptism in Reim in 496, the Franks
converted to Christianity in the form of the Roman Empire,
and the Merovings became eager protectors of the Church. The
monasteries became the centers of a culture where the
Christian and the ancient heritage were united. In Brittany,
there was a Celtic church (refugees from Britain invaded by
Anglo-Saxons since the 14th century) with their own customs.
There was also an Irish mission on the mainland; such as the
monasteries Luxeuil and Corbie were founded by Irish monks.
The Carolingian era led to a renewal of the Frankish
church. Religion and monastic life were unified through the
reform of Karl the Great. The church soon became one of the
country's great landowners; during the capitals it was
increasingly incorporated into feudal society. The
Cistercian Order (formed in 1098) meant an opposition
through its strictly ascetic ideals and demands for the
Church's freedom from world power.
During the 11th century, cataracts invaded Italy and
gained a foothold in Languedoc, where the movement was
supported by the nobility. The French Cathars constituted
their own church with divergent teachings and orders. Their
influence was broken by the Albigian wars of 1209–29,
whereby southern France was incorporated into the royal
domain. The Valdens preached an ideal of poverty, which
developed in a church-critical direction. Through the
begging orders, this ideal gained its place within the
framework of the church.
The University of Paris under Dominican leadership became
an important center of scholastic theology (Albertus Magnus,
Thomas of Aquino). For the pope's stay in Avignon 1309–78,
see Avignon. In the late Middle Ages, the Catholic Church in
France gained a distinctive national ecclesiastical mark
The Reformation in France was mainly Calvinist. After the
sometimes bloody conflicts, the Protestants (in France
called Huguenots) gained some religious freedom through the
edict of Nantes in 1598. This was recalled by Louis XIV in
1685, and the Protestants were subjected to persecution.
Only in 1781 were they officially tolerated.
The Roman Catholic Church was a powerful political force
in the 17th century under Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin.
During Louis XIV, the national church Gallican endeavors
were strengthened. Within the church there were protracted
internal struggles around Jansenism and Quietism, where the
church's leading personalities (Pascal, Bossuet, Fénelon and
others) took different positions.
The wealth and worldly power of the Church became
increasingly subject to criticism during the 18th century,
which brought its violent end to the French Revolution. Many
priests were killed, churches plundered, monks and nuns fled
abroad. The foundation was laid for anti-clericalism, which
to a large extent still exists. The church property was
nationalized. Bishops and priests were forced to take oaths
on the new constitution, which, however, was not recognized
by the Pope. The so-called constitutional church was
discontinued through Napoleon's concord with Pius VII in
1801. A continued struggle followed between church and
state, and Napoleon held a pope for a time.
At the restoration, the church regained most of its
privileges and gained significant influence. The piety of
Mary, who has always been strong in France, was nourished
through well-known Mary visions. Anti-clericalism, supported
by the Masonic Laws, was expressed during the revolutions of
1830 and 1848, and especially during the Paris Commune of
1871, when Archbishop Darby was killed. Several scandals
(including the Dreyfus business) contributed to the tension
between the church and the political left. In 1905, the
Concordate was abolished from 1801, the church separated
from the state, which took over the management of its
property. The Church was given legal status as an
association of cult congregations.
The loss of privileges and economic power in France by
the Roman Catholic Church has characterized its development
during the 20th century. Catholic and nationally united
during the First World War, culminating in the canonization
of Jeanne d'Arc in 1920. But after the Second World War,
people became increasingly aware of the Church's lack of
anchoring within large groups of people; radical church and
social experiments (labor priests, the Emmaus movement) were
invested. In recent times, strong charismatic currents have
emerged. The contradictions between conservative and radical
forces within the church in 1988 led to an
ultra-conservative outbreak, which, however, had little
scope. The influence of the church on cultural life has at
times been significant (Claudel, Bernanos, Mauriac,
The position of the Protestants was improved by the
French Revolution. Under Napoleon, they were given a kind of
state-church position, which, however, ceased in 1905.
However, the Theological Faculty of Strasbourg remained
state, since Alsace in 1919 again became French. During the
20th century, the various groupings became increasingly
united into a church union. An entirely new approach is the
ecumenical monastery of Taizé.
France currently has no registration of citizens based on
religious affiliation. Only a minor part of the church is
active and large sections of the population can be regarded
as fully Christian. Estimates based on surveys indicate the
proportion of Catholics in France to between 50-65%. Of
these, only a small proportion participate in church
ceremonies. There are about 1 million Protestants, mainly
Reformed but also Lutherans and Free Churches. The Orthodox
make up about 100,000. The largest religious minority in
France are Muslims. Estimates of the number of Muslims in
France vary widely, but the number is believed to be around
5 million, a large proportion of which are immigrants from
North Africa. There are about 600,000 Jews.