The proposal, which has not been implemented, set off a strong reaction in France. Some women said the government shouldn’t be pressuring them to think about fertility so early. And women’s rights groups complained the French government should be focused on doing more to make it more affordable to have children, or to tackle the climate crisis that threatens the Earth they will live on.
Though the tests would be offered to men and women, many in France also complained that conversations around boosting fertility tend to disproportionately target women.
In a message to the government, Anne-Cécile Mailfert, president of the Women’s Foundation advocacy group, said: “Leave our uteruses in peace.”
In an interview with French television station BFM, Mailfert said if France were “more pro-child” — including by providing quality public education and housing — more people would choose to have children.
Amélie Beauchemin, a 30-year-old lawyer in Paris, said it is “completely crazy” for a country like France — where the average age that women have their first child is 31 — to encourage 25-year-olds to think about their fertility.
“It’s much too early,” she said.
Macron, as part of a broader plan to boost birthrates, said his government will look to replace parental leave with a new “birth leave” that would be better paid and allow parents to return to work earlier. The government is also considering support measures for people seeking to have children through procedures such as IVF, according to French media. The Health Ministry will now draw up a more detailed plan for implementing these ideas and submit it to the government in the coming months.
In his speech, Macron called infertility the “taboo of the century” and said it is contributing to France’s declining birthrates.
A parliamentary report published in 2022 estimated that nearly 14 percent of French adults between 20 and 49 “have encountered infertility problems in their relationship requiring medical help.” The problem is global: The World Health Organization said last year that roughly 1 in 6 adults worldwide experienced infertility.
Rising infertility comes as France, like many other countries, is facing demographic decline. Only 678,000 babies were born in 2023 in France, and there were 47,000 more live births than deaths — the lowest level since the end of World War II, according to its national statistics institute. Policymakers worry that fewer babies means fewer young workers down the line to pay into the country’s expensive social security system and fund the pensions of older people, who are living longer than ever.
Experts say there is no one-size-fits-all explanation for why women around the world are having fewer children.
Beauchemin, the French lawyer, criticized the government’s focus on infertility as “reductive.” She wants to have a child in the near future, but says many in her generation do not because they are concerned about the cost of child care, the effect on their career and the risks caused by climate change.
“You have to make people want to have children. It’s not just a question of whether we have the mechanical and scientific ability to have them,” she said.
Still, the free tests may be useful — and less jarring — if offered to slightly older people, she said. “If right now I had the opportunity to go for a free fertility checkup, I would definitely do it,” she said.
Macron in his speech acknowledged that infertility is not the only reason fewer French are having children. “Morals are changing, we are having children later and later,” he said. Behind the country’s falling birthrate “are anxieties” and “perhaps choices made in the past,” he added, in what appeared to be a reference to cuts in child subsidies implemented by previous governments.
Yet the message from the government urging people to have more children is “an injunction that will weigh first and foremost on women” and put focus on their choices, including their career prospects, Mailfert told the France TV channel.
“As soon as we talk about birthrates, the question immediately comes up: At what age do women have children, they have them too late, they prioritize their professional lives — in short, it really focuses on women,” she said.
Mailfert also accused Macron of misusing the language of wartime — he called in his speech for a “demographic rearmament” for the nation — for what is a profoundly personal and human decision. “Women don’t have children so that they can become soldiers,” she said. “And children are not weapons.”