Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
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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