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MAP: Where are the happiest areas of France?

A new study has given a comprehensive view of happiness levels in different parts of France, with the area where you live having almost as strong an effect on happiness as whether you are young, rich or in a couple.

Hikers walk in the French Alps
A new study has suggested that people living outside of big French cities are more likely to be happy. (Photo by OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE / AFP)

France’s National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies compiled self-reported quality of life data among the population between 2010-19. 

In results published last week, researchers found that the average person living in mainland France rated their quality of life at 7.4 out of 10 – with all responses given before the pandemic.

The study noted that people who are “young, rich, in a couple, in good health and born French” were most likely to view their quality of life positively.

“Life satisfaction increases with the richness of a commune but the impact of this is weaker than the with the impact of individual wealth,” wrote the authors. 

But the geographical differences should not be understated. 

On the map below, people living in the départements shaded in blue reported lower than average life satisfaction, while those shaded in yellow and orange reported higher than average life satisfaction. 

A map shows self-reported quality of life in France.

A map shows self-reported quality of life in France. Blue areas indicate départements where quality of life is lower than the national average, yellow indicates it is higher and orange indicates significantly higher. Grey areas mean quality of life is close to the national average and dark grey areas indicate départements where data was not available. Source: INSEE

The data indicates that people are happiest in the the largely rural départements of Gard, Cantal, Aude and Ariège départements. 

The areas with the lowest reported quality of life include Tarn in south west France, the Paris suburban area of Seine-Saint-Denis, Loir-et-Cher near Orélans and Isère in eastern France. 

Seine-Saint-Denis is not the only greater Paris area to perform poorly. Paris itself, Yvelines and Val-d’Oise all reported lower than average quality of life. 

On a broader scale, the study revealed that people living in rural areas were happier than those living in big cities, but a number of other factors also had an impact. People living in detached houses, for example, were more likely to report higher quality of life, as were those in employment. 

The survey also found that foreigners living in France were happiest in areas where the overall proportion of foreigners is lower. The same can be said for unemployed people. 

The researchers also found that self-reported life satisfaction generally decreases with age and that middle-aged men were generally happier than middle-aged women. 

A graph shows that self-reported quality of life among people in France decreases with age.

A graph shows that self-reported quality of life among people in France decreases with age. Source: INSEE
The overall level of life satisfaction across the country was more or less the same in 2010 as it was by 2019. But data for people living in the regions of Normandy, Centre-Val de Loire and Pays de Loire suggests that overall quality of life decreased by about 2-3 percent. The quality of life for people living in Paris increased marginally. 

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French MPs approve law making it easier to change name

The French parliament has approved a bill which would make it easier for citizens to change their surname via a simple new procedure.

French MPs approve law making it easier to change name

In France, around 85 percent of newborn children are given the surname of their father. 

Currently, French citizens can only adopt the surname of their second parent by going through a long and complicated legal procedure via the Ministry of Justice. 

But a new law approved by parliament on Thursday will make it possible to do so, once per lifetime, via a simple form submitted at the closest mairie (town hall) to the place of birth.

A pressure group that had lobbied for the law, Porte Mon Nom, celebrated the news on Facebook, writing: “this law reminds French people that the name of the mother has the same value as the name of the father.” 

Patrick Vignal, the MP who pushed the law through the Assemblée nationale, tweeted that the legislation was “a law of liberty”. 

Who will this benefit? 

About 3,000 French people attempt to change their surname every year according to the Ministry of Justice.  

The reasons for wanting to change surname, to that of the other parent, are myriad according to the vie-publique website: “because they carry a ridiculous or difficult to pronounce surname, to make their surname more French, to avoid a surname going extinct or to reveal the identity of an illustrious ancestor.” 

Some of the motivations might be darker, including wanting to abandon the name of a parent who is “incestuous, violent or neglectful.”

The new procedure will be available to around half of all people who want to change their surname every year. Those who do not want to adopt the name of another parent, but instead want to modify their family name by removing a syllable or making it more French, will still need to go through the Ministry of Justice. 

French citizens over the age of 18 will be able to submit dossiers to the mairie independently. 

Those under the age of 18 will need both parents to give their consent – if one parent refuses, there will be a legal process for appealing the decision. Those aged 13-17 will also need to consent personally to the name change. 

This legislation has now been validated but has yet to enter into effect. You can can keep track of its progression into law here

What about foreigners? 

If you have lived in France for some time, you will be aware that the French have a strange obsession with the use of birth certificates as a proof of identity. 

For some administrative procedures, such as getting Pacsé (entering into a civil partnership) or applying for a higher education bursary, you will be required to submit a copy of your birth certificate (in the former case, this must be a new official copy of the birth certificate less than 6 months old). 

The reason you would be asked for a recent copy of your birth certificate is that French ones are updated to include things like name changes, marital status or whether you legally identify as a gender that wasn’t assigned at birth. A birth certificate in France essentially serves as the ultimate record of your état civile (civil status). 

If you use a name which is different to the one listed on your birth certificate, many French institutions will be baffled and may refuse to validate an administrative procedure. 

The only way to get around this is to legally change your name via deed poll in your home country. You will need official proof of having done so (in the UK, the process costs £42.44 and is known as an enrolled deed poll) in the form of a certificate.

You will then need to get this certificate translated by a professional recognised by the French legal system (un traducteur agréé). Once this has been done, you can submit these documents along with the rest to explain that your legal name is not the one listed on your birth certificate.