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... according to one astonishing poll, three-quarters of young French people today would like to become civil servants, and mostly because that would mean "a job for life".

I've often heard this said, without seeing the poll. The only one I can find that gives this "three-quarters" number is an IPSOS poll from 2004.

I think it's fair to note that the poll was carried out for a local government periodical and reflected its interests. Also the wording of the question:

Les trois-quarts des jeunes de 15 à 30 ans interrogés par Ipsos (75%) déclarent en effet "qu'ils aimeraient travailler dans la fonction publique s'ils en avaient l'opportunité" contre 24% qui se montrent plutôt hostiles à cette idée.

Three-quarters of young people from 15 to 30 years of age questioned by ISOS (75%) said "that they would like to work in the civil service if they had the opportunity", against 24% who showed hostility to this idea.

I think the poll was meant to test the image of the civil service among young people, more than their actual job-seeking intentions.

However... I wouldn't be at all surprised if other polls confirmed a wish, even vague, for a civil service job among many young people. I think it has always been like that in France. One thing to put in the mix is that we are talking here about jobs in the civil service per se (service of the State), but also of teaching jobs (teachers are civil servants in France), hospital jobs, local government jobs... In other words, a larger field than if we were talking about Britain, at least (to mention a country I know a bit about).

The main motivation (though there are others) for this wish is, of course, job security. It's fairly common in France to hear parents tell their kids to get a job in the public sector so they'll be sure where they're going. It's not a feeling I have empathy for, but I don't see what's wrong with it. Since when does everyone have to pretend to be a yuppie? Since when does market capitalism actually give a good and secure living to anyone but a minority? Since when was it proved that if we don't all flog ourselves to death to be mobile, flexible, retrainable, eventually outsourceable, we are doomed by inevitable economic logic?

But maybe I'm enouncing a "discredited creed"...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 03:43:45 PM EST
Wow, very interesting article.  Interesting that a French poll sort of backs up the poll cited in the Economist, though point taken about the aims of the poll and those who sponsored it.  Also have not been able to read through the entire IPSOS article, but could not find anything to back up The Economist's claim that students wanting to become civil servants did so "mostly because that would mean 'a job for life'".

It's fairly common in France to hear parents tell their kids to get a job in the public sector so they'll be sure where they're going.

Good point.  Jerome pointed out in the Grandes Ecole thread that that traditionally, the state got the pick of the litter of French elite students:

In the old system, the State used to grab most of the students from the top schools (it still gets the énarques and all the corpsards from polytechnique, which all are civil servants and owe the State 10 years of work as payment for their studies - you get paid while studying, and you get first class teachers). A portion of the polytechniciens, and all the graduate from other schools have always gone to the private sector, but now, increasingly, the énarques and corpsards go there as well, sometimes before the end of their 10 years (you can do it if you pay the State back). Some of that has been linked to the privatisations of the past 20 years, which transferred a number of the top jobs to the private sector (but it was still the same people that got them, using the same criteria...), and some to the lure of better paid jobs in finance, for younger people. In a word, the State used to get all the best minds of the country, not an increasing number go to the private sector.

So aside from the benefit of assured job security, it's natural that French parents would want their kids to get jobs with the state, as that is what the "best of the best" usually went to.  In the U.S., it is not as clear-cut where the "best of the best" are geared to right out of school -- but maybe medicine, law, elite business schools, and so that is where it is common for American parents tell their kids to go for.

Interestingly, also in the Grandes Ecoles thread, lacordaire says that in France:

And as I always explain to foreigners: if you exclude vocation and family tradition which at age 18 are rare, doctors and lawyer in France are 2nd tier students. In my baccalaureat class ( "C section", scientific major but we had the best students in french literature too), the first 1/4 without exception went for a "classe préparatoire" for an engineering school. Then, a "classe préparatoire" for business school. The others, who were not accepted, has to take medicine, law, economy at the university.

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire
by marco on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 05:56:54 PM EST
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