1. Paris - one of the world’s great destinations of migration, 2. Steady decline in the population, 3. Rapid urbanization. France is one of the world's largest countries and economies, with a population of 68 million people and an economy equivalent to India's (which is many times larger). While looking at a population density map of France, one cannot notice an "empty diagonal" that begins in the northeast at the border with Belgium, divides the country virtually in half, and ends in the southwest towards the border with Spain. This portion of French territory is the size of Belarus, but it has a population density of roughly 30 people per square kilometer, compared to the national average of 119 people per square kilometer. So why have this phenomenon, let's take a look at the reasons below!
- Paris – one of the world’s great destinations of migration
- Steady decline in the population
- Rapid urbanization
Paris – one of the world’s great destinations of migration
In fact, a region the size of Belarus is not empty, but the population imbalance is of significance in comparison to the rest of the country. The population concentration is significantly higher to the west and east of this diagonal than in this region of the territory.
This is not a new phenomenon. Rural regions in France began to empty during the middle of the 19th century due to industrialization, urbanization, and low birth rates. Even though these processes managed to influence France far sooner than other European countries, the explanation for this can be summed up in one word: Paris. For centuries, Paris has attracted talent, wealth, and people like no other European city. France has been one of the most populous parts of Europe for centuries, but this has changed significantly over the past two centuries. Since the era of Louis XIV, the French capital has attracted ambitious elites, drawing them from other major centers of the country and concentrating them in one place. With the French Revolution, this only intensified. This political hyper-centralism also led to economic concentration around Paris, making the city one of the world’s most prominent destinations for migration.
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Steady decline in the population
Just 39% of the capital’s residents were locals in 1920. Against this background, approximately 50% of the city’s population is made up of migrants from the French countryside, with the remaining 10% coming from abroad.
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The combination of rapid urbanization and such a decline in population, along with the economic consequences of World War I, has resulted in substantial depopulation in many regions of the country.
And, of course, the rural regions of France suffer the most from all of this. Marseille, Lille, Lyon, and, Paris, the jewel in the crown, are the main economic and cultural hubs. The Empty Diagonal in France includes mostly agricultural land. Agriculture requires fewer and fewer people because technology advances. Consequently, if 1.6 million people were working in agriculture in the country roughly 40 years ago, there are currently about 400 thousand – four times fewer. As a result, fewer jobs available and development opportunities push many young people away from these areas, while richer cities tempt them with their cultural life, career opportunities, and overall development. For certain regions, this includes the spiral effect: the smaller a region’s population, the lower its economic activity and the less chance of development. This, in turn, drives even more young people, while the remaining population is mostly older, restricting economic activity even further.
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