In France everything has its season: in February it’s skiing; in May it’s lily-of-the valley; in August it’s idleness; and in October it’s tax. This last is why, as the leaves begin to fall each year, my husband and I get together for a financial summit.
Our budgetary discussions have a peculiarly French flavour, however: rather than generating spreadsheets and instigating household economies, we hold our annual discussion about whether or not we should have a third child.
Tax is a family affair in France
In the UK, our third child discussions were all about affordability. A third child meant maternity leave, a bigger car, an extra mouth to feed, and a third winter coat each year. Could our finances stretch that far, we asked ourselves? In France, our conversations on the subject take precisely the opposite course, for it seems that if French Presidents have one objective in mind it is that I should procreate. No, calmez-vous, there is no need for another sleaze probe: Governmental interests in this area are fiscal rather than prurient in nature.
French families get to share their tax liabilities between them, you see. This does not mean a stingy little contribution via the child benefit system (though French families get that too), but a wholesale division of the family’s tax liabilities between each member of the family. Thus, the more numerous the family, the smaller the bill. Whereas the super-rich in the UK are busy messing around with offshore bank accounts and dodgy investment funds, here in France, where all you have to do is go forth and multiply, tax avoidance is much more fun.
Child tax benefits in France
A third child would not only reduce our tax liability by 25% but would transform us into a card-carrying famille nombreuse. Entire websites are given over to the privileges enjoyed by such families, which include state-subsidised reductions of up to 75% in the cost of train tickets, reduced entries to museums, cinemas and leisure centres, and even, in some resorts, free ski passes for the fifth family member (lest the cost of the compulsory February activity become prohibitive). In addition to virtually non-existent childcare costs and government-sponsored rehabilitation of mothers’ baby-making equipment, reproduction in France has much to recommend it.
What being a mother means in France
Of course, to benefit from the munificence of the French state, one has not only to give birth to additional children, but to remain in France. Prospective parents might do well to think this through before they embark on any course of action. Not only does raising a family in France commit you to a lifetime of being corrected on the use of the subjonctif by young relatives barely out of nappies, it also means that your children will demand at least three courses, one of which should be fromage, at every meal. You will tie yourself in to years of rote-learned poetry: charming when it is directed towards your many and manifold virtues on Mother’s Day, but rather less so when you are hearing a child drone on about the rentrée for the fifth time in their primary school career. You will have to learn to decipher that French curly script, le cursive, if you ever want to stand a chance of understanding a word that your child writes, and if they show the slightest glimmer of musical talent, you will become as expert as Julie Andrews on the subject of the gender of deer, or how far to run.
In other words, the reduction in your tax bill comes at a price, which is why at our annual summit we postponed any decision until next year…
Emily Commander is a freelance writer and journalist.