In 1926, according to TRACKAAH, France had a population of 40,743,851. (74 per sq. Km.), Coming, in Europe, after Russia (100 million), Germany (62 million), Great Britain (47 million) and being equal to Italy; in terms of density, it is much exceeded by Belgium (255 residents per sq. km), Holland (176), England (150) and Italy (124). The census of 8 March 1931 gave a population of 41,834,923 residents, that is, on average, 76 residents. per sq. km. At the end of the century XVI, France already had 20 million residents; two centuries later (1815) he had 30 million; and it reached the greatest increase in population more quickly than all other European states, because it soon achieved its unity and rose to the highest degree of its power. On the other hand, it did not suffer to the same extent as England, Germany and Belgium the industrial impulse, which necessarily determines an increase in the population; but it remained more agricultural and rural, so that, during the century. XIX, it had a relatively slow increase, going from 30 million in 1815 to 36 in 1851 and 38 in 1900.
The demography of France records at the same time a decrease in births and a decrease in deaths, the second more considerable than the first. Between 1801 and 1810, there were still 33 births per 1000 residents; in the following decade the figure passed to 31.8, and the decline continued until the middle of the century; then there was a pause: the decades 1851-60, 1861-70, 1871-80 gave respectively 26.3, 26.3, 25.4; but almost immediately afterwards the descent became rapid again: in the period 1901-09 the births were only 20.7, in the four-year period 1921-25 19.3 ‰ and they dropped again in the three-year period 1926-29 (18.2). If the means adopted to encourage the increase in births did not give notable results, the fight against mortality (organization of hygiene, foundation of numerous hospitals, destruction of unhealthy homes) produced, instead, admirable effects. In the periods 1877-86, 1896-1905, 1906-1913 the number of deaths per 1000 residents descended from 22.5 to 20.4 and to 18.6. And the improvement continued after the war: 17.2 in the period 1921-25; 16.8 in the period 1928.
The slight surplus of births would not have been enough to bring the population to 40 million, without the introduction of elements from abroad. The number of foreigners existing in France, which in the middle of the last century was 380,000, increased with each census: in 1906, it was 1,046,905, in 1911, 1,159,835; in 1921, of 1,417,000; in 1926, of 2,498,230. If, after the losses caused by the war (which increase to 1,500,000), the latest censuses show an increase in the population, it must be attributed to the increase in foreigners. The Department of the Seine, in Paris, is the one that has the largest number (423 784, or 1 / 10 of the population); followed by the border departments of the north-east (Pas-de-Calais, 153.175 and Nord, 233.026) and that of the Seine-et-Oise (83.940). In the south, due to the presence of Marseille, the Bouches du Rhone have 180,118 foreigners, almost 20% of the population; the Maritime Alps have 140,640, or 35%.
The movement of the population has local differences. As in all other European countries, there is a contrast between agricultural regions, which are becoming depopulated, and industrial regions and urban centers, which are steadily increasing. Until the middle of the century. XIX, the French population was mainly rural; after 1850, at each census the agricultural regions gave fewer residents. Between 1881 and 1921, in 18 departments all the cantons, except one, marked a decline; they were: the high mountain villages (Low Alps, High Alps, High Pyrenees, Ariège), the Aquitaine Basin (Lot, Gers, Tarn-et-Garonne, Lot-et-Garonne), the Massif Central (Creuse, Corrèze, Haute-Loire, Ardèche) and the limestone plateaus of the east (Meuse, Haute-Saône). In the industrial regions, however, the number of residents increased: in the mining department of Pas-de-Calais, the district of Béthune increased from 135,943 residents in 1850 to 402,521 in 1911; the increase in population went hand in hand with the production of hard coal (812,000 tons in 1861, 20,637,000 tons in 1911). The exploitation of rich iron mines, after 1890, produced a real revolution in Lorraine, which had remained agricultural for a long time, with a density of just 40 or 50 residents per sq. km. and with a tendency to depopulation: in a few years, from 1891 to 1906, the population has tripled there. The big cities have earned a lot for this population shift: Paris with its environs contains 1 / 10 of the population of France; Marseille and Lyon have over 500,000 residents; seventeen cities reach and exceed 100,000 residents.
Historical and administrative divisions. – Under the ancient regime the great French provinces, which subsequently became part of the royal domain, with their traditions, their privileges and their provincial and local administration, presented a singular amalgamation of military, financial and judicial districts. The constituent assembly from the beginning of the Revolution (1790) hastened to wipe out all the past: it abolished traditional institutions, military governments, generalities, parliaments, podesterie, siniscalcati, and created new divisions: the department, the district or district (arrondissement), the common. Geographical considerations did not enter the new division into departments at all. The ancient provinces (Normandy, Brittany, Guienna, Languedoc, Provence, Dauphiné, etc.) were arbitrarily dismembered into fragments of an area ranging from 5,000 to 7,000 sq km, with absolutely artificial borders. The new administrative subdivisions were given names derived, either from their position with respect to the sea (Manche, Côtes-du-Nord, Pas-de-Calais), or from a river that crosses them (Lot, Dordogne, Ariège, Hérault, Doubs, Meuse, Moselle, Oise, Seine, etc.) or from mountains that make up its relief (Vosges, Jura, Cantal, Puy-de-Dôme, High Alps, Low Alps, High Pyrenees, Low Pyrenees). The development of communication routes made the French departments too small, and demonstrated the need, if not to return to the old provinces, to group at least the 89 departments into 15 or 20 large regions; but these aspirations, called godsrégionalistes, have so far only been fulfilled with economic groupings (chambers of commerce).