As you learned in your textbook, the definition of family is rapidly evolving in France. The traditional two-parent family is no longer the norm, and many couples (2.5 million in 1995) live together without ever marrying. Called concubinage, this state is so common that it has legal status: couples living together in a union libre enjoy many of the social benefits of marriage. In 1999, the PACS (Pacte civil de solidarité) was passed, extending these benefits to gay couples as well.
While France now supports many non-traditional forms of family life, such social progress was historically hard to instigate in France. Women gained legal rights much later in France than in the United States. The right to vote was not obtained until 1944. Until 1964, a woman had to obtain her husband’s permission to open a bank account or apply for a passport. It was not until 1967 that a law authorizing contraception was passed, and in 1975 abortion was legalized. Today, women have entered the workforce in great numbers (although they still hold less management positions than do men and tend to be paid lower wages), and France offers significant social benefits to women who have both a family and a career. Women are entitled to 12 weeks of congé de maternité (maternity leave) and have the option of putting their child in state-funded daycare, called a crèche publique.