Births, marriages and many deaths: Five things that happened to France’s demographics in 2020

There were many deaths but despite the pandemic births and even the odd marriage continued - here's what happened to the population numbers in France in 2020.

Births, marriages and many deaths: Five things that happened to France's demographics in 2020
Total deaths in France in 2020 were substantially above average. Photo: AFP

French national statistics body Insee has released its annual report into the country's demographics, showing rates of births, marriages, deaths and migration over 2020.

Here's some of the main takeaways from the report.

Excess deaths

There's no getting away from the fact that a lot of people died in France in 2020. Insee lists excess deaths for 2020 at 53,900 – that is deaths from all causes compared the the average for 2015-2019.

Total death numbers in France with the black line showing the 2015-2019 average and red showing 2020 figures. The vertical red lines show the periods when France was under lockdown. Graphic: Insee

The graph shows death rates for 2020 grouping into two peaks which follow the first and second wave of Covid-19 in France. Deaths peaked at the end of March – two weeks after the first nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 17th, before falling steadily until the late summer. The second peak of deaths was lower than the first and occurred at the end of October as the country locked down for a second time.

The official Covid-19 death toll on January 1st was 64,765 – substantially higher than the excess death toll for 2020 of 53,900.

This would seem to indicate that official Covid death tolls in France do not have any 'missing' deaths – for example some countries do not count people who died in nursing homes or in their own home.

But deaths from other causes also fell – particularly during the first, strict lockdown the number of deaths from crashes on the roads halved and deaths at work also showed a sharp fall. It also seems likely that some of the elderly or frail people who might have died of seasonal flu in 2020 instead fell victim to Covid.

However in terms of death tolls for a single day, 2020 did not top the appalling heatwave of 2003 (shown in yellow on the graph) when 20,000 people – many of them elderly and living in cities – died over the course of a few days at the height of summer when temperatures soared.

Population growth

In spite of the considerably above average death toll, the total population of France still grew in 2020. On January 1st 2021 the population stood at 67,422,241, an increase of 135,000 people on 2019.

This represents a 0.25 percent increase, down on 0.34 percent the previous year. This continues a trend of a steady slowing in population growth in recent years – from 0.35 per cent in 2018 and 0.48 percent in 2017.

There doesn't seem to have been a noticeable trend of 'lockdown babies'. Photo: AFP


There were plenty of jokes during the rounds during the spring lockdown that the end of the year would see a spike in births, as people had very little to do apart from watch TV and – if they were already living together – have sex.

However if people were doing more of that then it certainly didn't result in any extra babies – in total 740,000 babies were born in 2020, down 1.8 percent on the previous year.

This follows a long-term trend of declining birth rates in France which began a decade ago and has been steadily accelerating. On average, women in France have 1.84 children in 2020, compared to 1.86 the previous year.

However France remains the country with the highest birth rate in the EU – well above the average of 1.56 children per woman and topping the next highest of Sweden and Romania at 1.76 each.

Births still outnumbered deaths in 2020, with 740,000 births compared to 667,000 deaths.


With births only just higher than deaths, the biggest driver of the population increase was migration 

In previous years the largest single factor in population growth has been births outnumbering deaths, with migration as a secondary factor. However in 2020 that ratio was reversed – probably due to the excess death toll – and migration was the biggest single factor for growth with net inward migration of 87,000 people during the year.


Unsurprisingly for a year in which large gatherings were banned for many months at a time, the number of weddings fell by 34 per cent compared to the year before.

Excluding some weeks at the start of the the spring lockdown, for most of the year in France it has been possible for couples to get married, but gatherings of family and friends to celebrate the marriage have been strictly limited.

In total there were 148,000 marriages (including 4,000 between same-sex couples) in 2020, 34 percent down on 2019. The data for PACS (civil partnerships) only becomes available later, said Insee. 

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France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

France's public health body outlined how Covid-19 rules changed starting on February 1st, including an end to compulsory self-isolation after a positive test result.

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

Starting on February 1st, Covid rules relaxed in France as the country brought an end to compulsory isolation for those who test positive for the virus.

However, those travelling from China to France will still be required to agree to a random screening upon arrival and to isolate in the case of a positive Covid-19 test result. Travellers aged 11 and over coming from China must also provide a negative test result (less tan 48 hours) prior to boarding and those aged six and over must agree to wear a mask on board flights. These regulations – which was set to last until January 31st – is set to remain in place until February 15th.

The French public health body (The Direction générale de la santé or DGS)  announced the change on Saturday in a decree published in the “Journal Officiel” outlining the various ways the body will loosen previous coronavirus restrictions.

READ MORE: What Covid rules and recommendations remain for visiting France?

Those who were in contact with someone who tested positive – ie a contact cases – will also no longer be required to take a test, though the public health body stressed that both testing after contact and isolating after receiving a positive test remain recommended.

Previously, even asymptomatic people who had been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 were required to test on the second day after being notified that they were a “contact-case”.

These changes took effect on February 1st.

READ MORE: What changes in France in February 2023?

The DGS also said that website SI-DEP, which records test results, will remain in operation until June 30th, however starting in February it will only collect personal data with the express permission of the patient.

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Additionally, the French government announced that sick leave procedures for people with Covid-19 would return to normal starting February 1st – this means that those who test positive for Covid-19 now also have the three-day wait period before daily sick benefits are required to be paid, as is usually the case. Previously, people with Covid-19 could expect daily sick benefits to begin at the start of their sick leave period (arrêt maladie in French).  

READ MORE: How sick leave pay in France compares to other countries in Europe

Covid tests are still available on walk-in basis from most pharmacies are are free to people who are fully vaccinated and registered in the French health system. Unvaccinated people, or visitors to France, have to pay up to a maximum of €22 for an antigen test of €49 for a PCR test. 

If you recently tested positive for Covid-19 in France – or you suspect you may have contracted Covid-19 – you can find some information for how to proceed here.

In explaining the changes that began at the start of February, the French public health body also noted a drop in Covid-19 infections in the past month. As of January 30th, approximately 3,800 people in France had tested positive in the previous 24 hours for the coronavirus – which represents a decrease from the averages of 20,000 new cases per day about one month ago.