According to 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.
According to thesciencetutor, 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 foreign-born parents.
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 influence.
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 Portuguese (1.3%).
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 (Gallicanism).
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, Messiaen).
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.
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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.