Francois Hollande is a Threat to French Tradition

Youth unemployment is high in France; many people don’t get into a stable job until their mid-20s. Meanwhile, French Presidential candidate François Hollande wants to lower the retirement age to 60.

The math is eye-opening. French life expectancy is about 80. Under the Hollande proposal, the typical French person will have a working life of less than half of that (age 25-60 or 35 years).

This constitutes a grave threat to France tradition.

If they are expected to work less than half of their lifetimes, when, I ask you, when, will the French people find the time to go on strike?

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

23 thoughts on “Francois Hollande is a Threat to French Tradition”

  1. ” many people don’t get into a stable job until their mid-20s.”

    As opposed to the USA where college grads move into stable jobs when?
    Are you aware of (a) youth unemployment and (b) the miserable nature
    of the jobs that many get?

    ” Meanwhile, French Presidential candidate François Hollande wants to lower the retirement age to 60.”

    Perhaps they have a shortage of Wal-Marts for the 60-somethings to be greeters and cart retrievers in.

  2. This is a bit misleading. France has a minimum retirement age of 62 and a standard retirement age of 67. This was recently raised from 60 and 65, respectively.

    And in order to get full pension benefits, you will have to have worked for 41.5 years (if you retire earlier, you get less), raised from 40 years previously.

    As it is, the average retirement age in the private sector is already 57.5 years, before people accrue full pension benefits (on average at 61.3 years, according to the same Wikipedia article). I.e., on average they already work about 36 years.

    1. I’m with Katya on this. The number who will benefit from the “retire at 60” headline is tiny. Hollande has basically conceded Sarkozy’s raise of the standard retiring age from from 60 to 62. He’s a lefty but not an idiot.
      The polling currently gives Hollande an easy win over Sarkozy. But remember that Sarkozy has a high personal unpopularity. The same polls give significant first-round scores to the Front National and Bayrou (25%-30% together). We can’t assume Hollande will have a secure legislative majority. The synchronization of the electoral calendars has made cohabitation with a conservative parliamentary majority and Prime Minister less likely than it used to be, but it’s still possible. Another possible outcome is a socialist-led minority government. Hollande is quite likely to have to govern to the right of his platform, and he knows this.

  3. It’s remarkable how hostile many Americans are to France and its rules, economy and society. I suspect it’s because France shows a very different social principle at work, and unless you’re a young Muslim immigrant in the suburbs, it works well. (They do need to figure out how to integrate their racial/religious minorities, but the US model is not necesarily a guide for them on that topic.) Let’s see, the world’s best health care system, four to six weeks’ holidays a year that most people actually take, reasonable income security when retired, respect for personal privacy, good food and wine, a country with a great variety of beautiful regions including great beaches … Maybe that does shake the faith of overworked, underinsured Americans about their place in the world.

    1. John,
      I don’t think that France is unique in this respect. Apart from the beaches, food, and wine, you’re describing most of northern Continental Europe. (Belgium has the food and wine, but trades the beaches for great beer and a more interesting assortment of local dogs.)

      American Francophobia is sharper than Europhobia in general. I think it owes much to:
      – France lost WWI and WWII but for the US. (Yes, I know. WWII=USSR. But Yanks don’t think so.)
      – France still has pretensions of imperial grandeur. We find this charming among the Brits, but can’t tolerate it from anybody else, if we’re aware of it. (Turkey is lucky in this regard.)
      – France is less rah-rah pro-Israel than the other large European powers.
      – Parisians act just like New Yorkers.

      1. The French and the Americans have an intense disdain for each other that stems primarily from the fact that we’re a lot more alike than either group cares to admit.

  4. Snarky and silly.
    Thoughtful minds in the West are attempting to find ways for society to adapt to a world where ever more automation appears to mean ever less paid work available.
    The French are trying, in one way, to come to terms with that.
    Meanwhile the Anglo-American response appears to be to insist that what happened in the past (when agricultural laborers moved in manufacturing, then when manufacturing laborers moved into services) will happen again — even though no-one is actually capable of filling in the details when pressed — and making fun of those who ARE trying to adapt to a new world.

    For a followup, might I suggest “those silly Danes and their windmills” or “the US does so have the greatest healthcare system in the world, damnit”.

  5. I think the youth unemployment figure you flag Keith is misleading. A lot more French youth are in college in their late teens and early twenties, more so than the US.

    And I think you have to be careful with unemployment stats between countries, unless the OECD normalized them. Typically, European countries over-state unemployment, while the US understates unemployment.

  6. It’s remarkable how hostile many Americans are to France and its rules, economy and society.

    I suppose. But it’s also remarkable how much many Americans love France. The food and wine are part of it, of course, but Paris has no beaches I’m aware of.

    I myself am among the Francophiles, and I don’t give a hoot about the rules, foolish as I think some are. It’s just a wonderful country, and as for the wars, a quick glance at France’s casualty figures in WWI reveals a lot.

  7. High French youth unemployment is a trope of the right, who want to ignore that higher school enrollment and students’ not needing to work while IN school explain much of the difference. Yes, the international comparisons are misleading.

    Plus, it’s so terrible that a country should have a potent – not neutered or near-dead – labor movement. It’s so much better having 30% of a population living in or near poverty. Why can’t the French understand that?

    But if they did understand these things, we couldn’t indulge in cheap tribalist sneers.

    This is the same blogger that used ad hominem and baseless character attacks on liberals who criticize the president, and concern-trolled us as too simpleminded to recognize behavior that undermines our cause. If we’re such tantrum-throwing little whiners, I’d like to know how we’re also menaces who would empower The Enemy.

  8. I don’t know if Keith is aware, but he is either deliberately (if aware) or obtusely (if unaware) is sabotaging his own point. If Hollande’s proposal is accepted and the French workers actually follow it (neither assumption particularly winning as a bet, but let’s pretend), then there will be more job openings for the youthful unemployed and they may settle into their permanent choice positions sooner, thus preserving the average work-life period, while leaving more time for enjoying retirement (and bankrupting the State by drawing that much more in pensions). In fact, I suspect this is the entire point of the argument–retire early, make it easier for young people to find jobs. It’s a dilemma we face in academia every year (US, UK–you name it!). Those aging sociologists are taking up too many choice spots. They should retire at 60!

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