Photographic book

France in the 2nd half of the 20th century


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Despite dramatic ups and downs resulting from World War I and the worldwide depression of the 1930s, France changed relatively little economically and socially between the two world wars. By 1924 the French had again reached their 1914 levels of industrial production. Although industrial production grew another 40 percent by 1929, three-quarters of this increase was lost during the global depression. Agriculture was relatively stagnant during the same period. Production of some crops, notably wheat, became more efficient, but overall, French agriculture lagged increasingly behind that of other nations. It was, for example, only one-third as efficient (measured in output per farmer) as agriculture in the United States.

Partly as a result of the large number of Frenchmen killed in World War I, population growth between the wars was sluggish. The most striking demographic trend was the continued immigration of foreigners. By the 1930s 2.5 million immigrants lived in France, making it Europe’s foremost melting pot. However, some of these newcomers returned home when the employment situation deteriorated during the depression.

During the interwar period, the standard of living rose only slightly. Workers and small farmers, in particular, saw barely any improvements in their quality of life. Demographic and income stagnation meant little growth in consumer demand, delaying the onset of a consumer society. Modern lifestyles and an artistic avant-garde could be found in Paris and a few other areas, but most regions, especially in the center and south, showed few signs of change.

On the eve of World War II, a full half of the population still lived in agricultural communities. Feminism in this period was relatively inactive, and the legal and economic condition of women improved very little. Partly because the population was growing so slowly, females were constantly reminded of their “natural” duty to become mothers, while contraceptives and abortion were banned.

The frozen condition of the French economy and society undoubtedly underlay often-heard charges that France had become so “decadent” that it could not meet the challenges of modern international economic and political competition. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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