The Economist, April 4, 2015
By law, French authorities cannot collect ethnic statistics. All citizens are considered equal. Differentiating them is felt to imply stigmatisation, or even worse to echo the singling out of Jews that took place under the collaborationist Vichy regime in the 1940s.
Yet however strong the historical reasons, this approach makes it difficult to tell whether French people of different backgrounds really do fare as well as each other. A new study suggests they do not.
It comes, surprisingly, from an official source: France Stratégie, the government’s economic-strategy unit, which is run by Jean Pisani-Ferry, an economist. The authors get round the ethnicity taboo by using census data on national origin. Several decades after mass immigration began, enough long-term data exist to see how the generation raised in France by parents from other countries has done.
In a word, badly. Youth unemployment of 32% for French-born citizens whose parents arrived from Africa, including sub-Saharan countries and those of the Maghreb, is twice as high as for those with no immigrant background. Fully 30% leave high school without any diploma or qualification, against 16% of those without immigrant parents. French people with parents from Africa have less stable working lives, and are more likely to live in poor neighbourhoods, than those with non-African immigrant backgrounds, the report finds.
Other studies use the data to reveal further differences by national origin. French-born citizens with parents from Morocco or Tunisia, for example, seem to do better at school than those with parents from Algeria or the African Sahel. Only 10% of French men aged 25-35 with Algerian-born parents, and just 9% of those with parents from the Sahel, have a degree, against 19% of those with Moroccan or Tunisian parents and 23% of the non-immigrant population. (Among those with south-east Asian roots, the figure tops 30%.)