France was historically Europe's most populous nation. During the Middle Ages, more than one quarter of Europe's total population is believed to have been French or at least people living within the boundaries of modern France. Although we are nor sure how Russia's population was estimated. It relates to the tremendous fertility of the French soil at a time when agriculture was the primary determinet of national wealth. It points to how important Caesar's conquest of Gaul was. It is quite interesting how after the Norman conquest, England with such a small popultion was so important. England with population a fraction of the French popultion constantly dominated in the Hundred's Year War. A factor here was wheat. It was the crop people wanted to grow so they could produce bread. Northern Europe meaning Germany, England, and Scandanavia were not good places to grow wheat because of the cold, wet weather. Mot only were yields relatively low, but there were actual crop failures because of the weather. Wheat came out of the warm, dry Middle East. France on the other hand offered a much better climate. France was warmer than northern Europe and betterwtered than southern Europe. The fertility of French soil generated that wealth that helped to make France the culturl center of Europe. This began to change with the European maritime outreach and conquest of the Americas (16th century). Among other results, it brought two especially important new crops to Europe -- potatoes and corn. Potatoes in particular provided farmers the ability to harvest sunstantially larger harvests per acre than when trying to grow wheat. The potato is today recognized as the 'world's heathiest food'. And corn is the most efficent converte of sunlight to carbohydrates. The result was a very rapid explosion of population, especially in Germany and Russia. In only one century, the French population declined from one-quarter to one-fifth (17th century). Dtill when Louis XIV managed to centralize the French state, France ws the most powerful state in Europe nd a threat to neigboring states (late-17th -- early-18th centurues). The last gasp of French dominance was the Napoleonic Wars (early-19th century). After this the most populace and dominant European powers became Germany and Russia. Germany established its dominance in the Franco-Prussian War as a result of population and industry (1870-71). The question of demographics and a slowing birth rate was a major issue in French society. Interestingly, the French was one of the few European countries which did not emograte in mumbers to the Americas. The birth rate in France began to slow earlier than in the rest of Europe. Population growth was slow in the 19th century, and the reached a nadir in the first half of the 20th century. At the same time France, was surrounded by the growing populations of Germany and the United Kingdom nd Russia further east. Germany and Russia would have their showdown in World War II in which France was reduced to the status of an impotent observer. France experiencd a post-World War II baby boom. Currently the country's fertility rate is close to the replacement level, but this is in part due to high fertility rates among immigrant groups. Racial and ethnic censuses were banned by the French government (1978). This was in part because the terms race and etnicity have dark associations with NAZI Germany. [Bleich] Another factor is the French Goverment's unwilligness to face up to the issue of France's changing demographics.
Bleich, Erik. "Race Policy in France" (Brookings Institution).
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