By Caroline Wyatt
BBC News, Paris
The French government has pledged more money for families with three children, in an effort to encourage working women to have more babies.
France wants professional women to consider larger families
France already has a generous childcare system, which has resulted in a birth rate of 1.9 children per family, well above the EU average of 1.5.
But the government is worried that many middle-class professional women put off child-bearing until their late 20s.
The new financial incentives encourage families to have a third child.
"The family has changed," Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, himself a father of three, told a conference on the family.
"But it remains at the very heart of French society. It is a source of joy, of comfort, and a haven for its members. That is why we are announcing measures to help families in their everyday lives."
Back to work
The new measures include extra tax credits for childcare, 15,000 new creche places and more government money for mothers who take time off work to have their third child: a parental leave allowance of 750 euros (£509) a month for one year, though mothers can opt to claim the old benefit of 512 euros (£347) a month for three years instead.
The new, higher allowance is aimed at getting women back to work sooner.
Laurent Clevenot, of the French Families Association, says the move should help entice well-educated women to have more children, as well as returning more quickly to the workplace.
"It will encourage more professional women to have children in the future," he believes. "Because they will have more freedom to make that choice. Having children costs money, so anything that can be done to make a family's decision to have more children easier is a good idea."
This nation's family-friendly policies are already bearing fruit. France has the second highest birth rate in Europe, just behind Ireland.
The French government's aim is to ensure that families with several children are not penalised - financially or in the workplace.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has three children
Big families - counted as any family with three or more children - already qualify for discounts on public transport, as well as tax breaks.
Some in France wonder where the funds for these generous benefits will come from; the nation is already over the European limit on public spending.
But France is hoping that with the state's encouragement, it will at least ensure that unlike much of the rest of Europe, it will have the future generations it needs to pay for its current largesse.
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