Improving life in France’s lower-income neighbourhoods

©Karim Trabelsi/AFP

While overall poverty is relatively low in France, it can be highly concentrated at the neighbourhood level. In some cases, 40% of households in such neighbourhoods are below the relative poverty line. Unemployment is high, children struggle in school, housing and urban infrastructure is run down, and there is a lack of local employers, public and private services, and amenities. The French government deploys special education, employment, business and safety measures in these areas. 

There are also policies to promote social mixing: municipalities in areas of tension must devote at least 25% of housing to social housing or face fines. The Programme National pour la Rénovation Urbaine is a large-scale urban renovation programme that aims to attract residents from wealthier areas to lower-income neighbourhoods where dilapidated social housing estates have been replaced with smaller units mixing social, private rental and owner-occupied housing. Such policies are based on the idea that high geographical concentrations of poverty reinforce and reproduce economic and social disadvantage. Indeed, in the United States, children who move away from neighbourhoods with a high concentration of poverty are found to attain higher levels of education and earnings than their peers who stayed behind.

While these results do not necessarily carry over to the French context where poverty overall is much lower and the social safety net stronger than in the US, there is clear evidence that social disadvantage is reinforced for inhabitants of France’s poor neighbourhoods. Their unemployment risk is almost double that of individuals with comparable characteristics who live in wealthier neighbourhoods. Studies show that this is partly due to discrimination:   those with foreign-sounding names or addresses in lower-income areas are less likely to obtain job interviews. Another issue is that many lower-income neighbourhoods are remote and poorly connected to transport infrastructure and services. This is especially a problem during off-hours, which particularly impacts low-skilled workers who are also less likely to have a driver’s license or own a car. The recently released OECD Economic Survey of France concludes that active policies are needed to fight discrimination. This can include awareness campaigns for employment recruiters, mentoring and coaching sessions for job seekers, and direct placements with potential employers, something that has worked well for university graduates.

While the urban renovation programme has improved infrastructure, and many residents are satisfied with the results, the impact on social mixity is unclear. Echoing the experiences of other countries, many people whose buildings were being demolished to make way for mixed housing were relocated to other high-poverty neighbourhoods. Moreover, mixing different kinds of housing has not brought about more social interaction.

As the government plans to extend the programme, the Economic Survey recommends better integration with employment and social policies. Consultation with residents about planned renovation projects should be used as an entry point for basic skills and language training. Construction and renovation work could be an opportunity for apprenticeship-style training for building sector jobs. Indeed, consultation needs to improve, and citizen councils introduced in 2014 to help draft strategy documents for the economic and social development of lower-income neighbourhoods are a first step in that direction. Strong resident participation in designing and implementing renovation projects has been successfully practiced in Germany where residents often rehabilitate their buildings themselves. In the US, residents of demolished buildings often had negative experiences with forced relocation; they now have a right to return when construction is finished.

France has run priority education programmes that devote more resources to schools with disadvantaged pupils for more than 30 years but the impact of socio-economic background on learning outcomes is still among the highest in the OECD. The OECD Economic Survey of France argues that individualised support for struggling students suffers from not enough high-quality initial and continuing pedagogical training for teachers. More must be done to offer attractive pay and career prospects for teachers who work in schools with a high population of disadvantaged children. While the bonus for teaching in priority education schools has recently been raised, it remains too low to stabilise teaching teams. And perversely, advantages for teachers in these schools have actually encouraged them to leave faster.

This article originally appeared on OECD Ecoscope blog, www.oecdecoscope.wordpress.com, 11 October 2017.

References and links

Bunel, M., Y. L’Horty and P. Petit (2016), “Discrimination based on place of residence and access to employment”, Urban Studies, Vol. 53, No. 2, pp. 267-86.

Chetty, R. and N. Hendren (2015), “The impacts of neighborhoods on intergenerational mobility: childhood exposure effects and county-level estimates”, https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/nbhds_paper.pdf.

Chetty, R., N. Hendren and L. Katz (2016), “The Effects of Exposure to Better Neighborhoods on Children: New Evidence from the Moving to Opportunity Experiment”, American Economic Review, Vol. 106, No. 4, pp. 855-902, April.

Kirszbaum, T. (2013), “Rénovation urbaine et équité sociale: Choice Neighborhoods aux Etats-Unis”, [Rapport de recherche] ISP; CNRS; Commissariat général à la stratégie et à la prospective; secretariat général du Comité interministériel des villes.

©OECD Observer No 311, Q3 2017 




Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q4 2017 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.6% May 2018 annual
Trade: +2.7% exp, +3.0% imp, Q4 2017
Unemployment: 5.4% Mar 2018
Last update: 06 Jul 2018

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Watch the webcast of the final press conference of the OECD annual ministerial meeting 2018.
  • International co-operation, inclusive growth and digitalisation lead the themes of the 2018 OECD Forum in Paris on 29-30 May, under the banner of What brings us together www.oecd.org/forum. It is held alongside the annual OECD Ministerial Council Meeting on 30-31 May, chaired this year by France with a focus on multilateralism www.oecd.org/mcm.
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • Ambassador Aleksander Surdej, Permanent Representative of Poland to the OECD, was a guest on France 24’s English-language show “The Debate”, where he discussed French President Emmanuel Macron’s speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Rousseau
  • Do you trust your government? The OECD’s How's life 2017 report finds that only 38% of people in OECD countries trust their government. How can we improve our old "Social contract?" Read more.
  • Papers show “past coming back to haunt us”: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria tells Sky News that the so-called "Paradise Papers" show a past coming back to haunt us, but one which is now being dismantled. Please watch the video.
  • When someone asks me to describe an ideal girl, in my head, she is a person who is physically and mentally independent, brave to speak her mind, treated with respect just like she treats others, and inspiring to herself and others. But I know that the reality is still so much different. By Alda, 18, on International Day of the Girl. Read more.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2018