Population. – According to the census of 8 March 1936 the total population of the republic was 41,905,968 residents with an absolute increase of just 71,045 people compared to the previous census (1931). Although this increase is minimal, it does not even reflect the current state of the natural increase, since France, after having seen the birth rates drop to very low values, has experienced a deficit in the last three years (- 0.4% in 1935 ; – 0.3% in 1936), i.e. deaths now exceed births. If we examine the individual departments, we note that in 54 of them there has been a decrease in residents; among these the Pas-de-Calais had the greatest setback which in 1936 numbered 25,724 fewer residents than in 1931. Very notable decreases also had the Rhone departments, Meurthe-et-Moselle, Loire and Puy-de-Dôme. On the other hand, 36 departments show an increase, a significant increase especially in the Parisian region (Seine, Seine-et-Oise) and in south-eastern France (Alpes-Maritimes, Var, Bouches-du-Rhône; the latter actually boasts the strongest increase with 123,130 residents).
On the same date, according to TRACKAAH.COM, the number of foreigners was 2,453,507 people, equal to 5.8% of the total population, compared to 6.9% in 1931. That is, in the five-year period there was a decrease of 437,000 people, due in part in naturalizations, but above all in the forced repatriation of foreign workers following the economic crisis. While there was an increase in only 23 departments, 67 experienced a decrease, in many significant, such as in the departments of the North (67.9%), Moselle (30%), Hérault (24%), Ardennes (23%), Meurthe-et-Moselle (22%), Pas-de-Calais (15%). That is, the strongest decreases occurred especially in the industrial and mining regions of northern and north-eastern France. Sensitive increases, on the other hand, occur precisely where the number of foreigners was small, as in Corsica, in Corrèze, Haute-Vienne, Dordogne, Vienne, Indre, Lot, that is, in departments with a predominantly agricultural economy. In addition to the notable decrease, the different territorial distribution of foreigners should therefore be noted, who in 1936 were more equally distributed than in the previous censuses.
Economic conditions. – Although peasants are becoming fewer and fewer than the total population, France remains a fundamentally agricultural country. Wheat maintains both the surface area (5344 thousand hectares in 1936) and the production (66,502 thousand q. In 1936; 67,297 in 1937) roughly unchanged; the same happens for oats (42.605 thousand q. in 1936; 45.576 in 1937) and for potatoes (152.510 thousand q. in 1936; 147.222 thousand q. in 1937), while minor cereals, buckwheat, barley, rye, are slightly decreasing. The cultivation of the vine also remains roughly stationary and France is always at the head of world production.
On the other hand, the production of sugar beet is showing a notable increase, from 50-60 million q. in 1930 it reached 82 million (1936; on 287 million ha.), and of flax.
Flax, after falling precipitously to minimum values in 1931-32, following various measures taken by the government to encourage this once thriving crop, has once again reached the surface and production before the crisis. Hemp, which has been in sharp decline since 1934, is also slowly recovering.
As far as livestock farming is concerned, there is a notable increase in pigs, a decrease of about 1 million heads in sheep, while the figures for oxen, mules, donkeys and horses have undergone only slight fluctuations.
French industry has naturally suffered from the global economic depression, also because some industrial products, already widely exported, concern luxury items, which are the first to be renounced in a period of crisis. In the extractive industries, the production of coal (45,226,000 tons in 1936) and iron (33,187,000 tons) tends to decrease considerably. France is still at the forefront of world bauxite production (649,000 tons in 1936). As a consequence of the depression in the mining field, the metallurgical industry has undergone a strong concentration, so that the number of blast furnaces from 217 (1927) fell to 174 (1934) and the production of steel is around 6000-6500 thousand. tons.
The unity of the French economic structure, which rested on solid foundations, was one of the main causes of the stability that the country managed to maintain from 1929 to 1931. While all of Europe and the other continents were in the most acute period of the crisis, France was still in very prosperous economic conditions. But the further development of the world crisis ended up creating a very difficult situation. In fact, on the one hand, exports to countries hit by the crisis began to decrease rapidly, on the other hand the foreign goods that were produced at lower prices exerted a very strong competition. There was therefore a surplus of imports over exports, a surplus which in 1931 reached the figure of 11,770 million francs.
The fall in prices on foreign markets, a fall which coincided with the increase in French wages and prices, caused the large deficit in the balance of payments. The crisis hit France with delay and when other nations were already in a period of adjustment and recovery, and the republic found itself in the worst moment of the economic depression.
The import trade in 1935 was divided as follows:
that is, the French import always maintains an industrial character by purchasing from abroad most of the raw materials which are then transformed. Among the supplier countries of France, the United States is always in first place, while Germany goes to second and England to third.
In the export trade, which mainly goes to neighboring countries, manufactured articles and raw materials occupy the first place; in 1935 it was divided as follows: