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Population (June 2002 est.): 59.3 million.
Annual growth rate (2001): 0.37%.
Ethnic groups: Celtic and Latin with Teutonic, Slavic, North African, Sub-Saharan African, Indochinese, and Basque minorities.
Religion: Roman Catholic 90%.
Education: Years compulsory--10. Literacy--99%. Health: Infant mortality rate--4.46/1,000.
Work force (25 million): Services--71%; industry and commerce--26%; agriculture--3%.
Since prehistoric times, France has been a crossroads of trade, travel, and invasion. Three basic European ethnic stocks--Celtic, Latin, and Teutonic (Frankish)--have blended over the centuries to make up its present population. France's birth rate was among the highest in Europe from 1945 until the late 1960s. Since then, its birth rate has fallen but remains higher than that of most other west European countries. Traditionally, France has had a high level of immigration. About 90% of the people are Roman Catholic, 7% Muslim, less than 2% Protestant, and about 1% Jewish. More than 1 million Muslims immigrated in the 1960s and early 1970s from North Africa, especially Algeria. In mid-2002, there were between 4 and 6 million persons of Arab descent living in France.
Education is free, beginning at age 2, and mandatory between ages 6 and 16. The public education system is highly centralized. Private education is primarily Roman Catholic. Higher education in France began with the founding of the University of Paris in 1150. It now consists of 91 public universities and 175 professional schools, such as the post-graduate Grandes Ecoles.
The French language derives from the vernacular Latin spoken by the Romans in Gaul, although it includes many Celtic and Germanic words. French has been an international language for centuries and is a common second language throughout the world. It is one of five official languages at the United Nations. In Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the West Indies, French has been a unifying factor, particularly in those countries where it serves as the only common language among a variety of indigenous languages and dialects.