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Synthesis 2015 > France

France 2015

The French are increasingly risk-averse, paralysed by their fear of being insufficiently protected.

In France, the feeling of downward mobility has decreased sharply (49%, -11 points) but remains well above the European average (40% overall). The prospect of unemployment is now less of a worry than theft or assault (in contrast to the situation in Spain and Italy). Fear of job insecurity is also easing, while remaining high (53%, -8). While the fear of unemployment and even job instability is declining, however, risk aversion is steadily increasing. Why? Probably because the French have a greater feeling of being less well protected in relation to 2013 (52%, +11 – compared to 41% overall). Risk aversion is therefore on the rise (70% consider it as a danger to avoid, +3). It is also felt least in France that risk-taking is encouraged (27%, -2 points).

Other countries are particularly afraid of being insufficiently protected against risks. This anxiety is even greater in Italy (67% consider themselves to have become less well protected against risks in the last five years), relatively high in Spain (46%) and in Poland (43%). Compared to these three countries, however, the distinctive thing is that France is the only country where this feeling is increasing significantly (+11 points), while it is levelling out in Spain and in Italy (-2 points) and even declining in Poland (-5 points).

There are also slightly more French people who consider that it is better not to take too many risks in order to succeed (55%, +2 versus 52% within the EU). There are also fewer who claim that they take risks individually (51%; -8 relative to 61%; -1 overall): France is the country where the smallest number of people claim to take risks. Whereas the feeling of exposure is falling, the French have never previously considered to so great an extent that it is better not to take risks to succeed.

Once again, it is appropriate to insist on the fact that it is the feeling of being less well protected (rising sharply) which increases people’s “risk phobia”. In a nutshell, the situation is less a source of anxiety in 2015 than it was in 2013, but the idea that protective mechanisms are less efficient seems to paralyse people more than ever.

In this context, the place of insurance policies and mutual insurance schemes in the welfare protection system is greater than two years ago. In 2013, 74% of French people (compared to 60% overall) considered that in years to come, insurance policies and mutual insurance schemes would have an increasingly important role to play in social welfare. Only 18% thought the same would apply for the State. What is their positioning today?

French decision-makers are among the most risk-averse in the European Union…

In France, decision-makers and elites (directors, senior managers, managers, intellectual professions, etc.) are also much more wary of risk-taking than in the other European Union countries: “only” 62% of them claim to take risks (compared to 67% of the elites asked for the whole of the EU).

Similarly, only 45% view risk as positive, considering that much risk must be taken to succeed (compared to 51% in Europe as a whole). The difference is therefore real and obvious, with French elites voicing a stronger mistrust of risk: only 27% of them consider it a stimulus (compared to 44% overall), they most often consider it a danger to be avoided.

Finally, if we compare the French situation with what is happening in Germany (one of the most risk-averse countries alongside France), we find that on the other side of the Rhine, elites do have a less distant relationship with risk: 71% claim that they take risks (+9 points compared to French elites), 45% consider risk to be more a stimulus (+18 points relative to France) than a danger to avoid.

On this point too, France is distinctive compared to other countries which are themselves risk averse, but where the elites and decision-makers differ in that they are more into risk than the rest of the population.

…and young French people too!

Young French people under the age of 35 are among those who least consider risk as a stimulus (35% compared to 47% of young people in all the countries surveyed). It is clear that throughout the EU and more particularly in France, young people are not more prone to risk-taking, far from it.

Above all, French young people, along with young Britons, are those who least consider that it is good to take risks in order to succeed (only 52%), way behind young Swedes (69%), Spaniards (65%) and Poles (60%). In addition, they consider most that risk-taking is not encouraged today in their country (74% compared to only 59% for young people overall), an observation which they also share with their older counterparts.
If young French people reject risk-taking so strongly, it is also partly because they are very fearful of the future: nearly one person aged under 35 in two considers him or herself to be downwardly socially mobile compared to his or her parents (50% versus 43% of all young people).

This feeling fell considerably between 2013 and 2015 (-7 points), as did their feeling of being exposed to the risk of experiencing job insecurity or losing their job, however they are even more “allergic” to risk than two years ago.

Looking at life risks, the gap has widened between the feeling of baby-boomers and that of other generations

With increasing age, the feeling of downward social mobility increases: 54% of those aged 25-34, 56% of 35-44 year olds and 59% of those aged 45-54 feel this. There is one exception to this, however, and this is the oldest age category, aged 55 and over, who are now the only ones (with those aged under 25) of whom a minority consider that they are living in worse conditions than their parents (40% for those aged 55 and over; 45% for those aged 15-24).

Fears felt in relation to risks are often fairly symptomatic of the situation. While we might expect that the eldest are those most fearful of life risks while the younger generations express relative confidence as to the future stages in their life, the opposite is now seen. Only a minority of older people today feel there is a greater risk of job insecurity than five years ago (46% versus 53% overall – 57% for the under 35s). Clearly, the gap is widening between the reality felt by the eldest and that experienced by the youngest.

The same applies for the loss of employment (51% of those aged under 35 believe there is more likelihood of having to face this risk compared to 24% of those aged 55 and over – admittedly many of whom no longer work), also financial difficulties (63% of those aged under 35 versus 58% for those aged 55 and over) and even the risk of encountering personal difficulties (39% against 28% for those aged 55 and over).

France and Spain differ from other countries because this phenomenon of fear is generalised amongst the youngest here (there is not one risk which is more often perceived by those aged 55 and over) and most often at higher levels than in a good number of countries in the European Union.

How can we reconcile the aspirations of all generations when the fears experienced by the eldest and the youngest are so different? Do we not ultimately risk seeing a clash between the aspirations of young people and those of the eldest, and a confrontation between the two? How can we avoid real resentment between the eldest and youngest in society?

The sharing economy is developing very quickly in France

The changes are undeniable. Whether we focus on consumer behaviour or on their feelings, certain means of consumption have made inroads and the sharing economy seems to be here to stay.
Asked about changes in their consumption behaviour over the last five years, 51% of Europeans say they have rented, swapped, borrowed and/or bought items second-hand more often. These practices are developing particularly in Southern Europe, Poland and France. Logically, the increase is highest in the countries which today are suffering most from the economic situation.

More specifically, if France is a little “out of kilter” with what is observed in other countries (4.3 collaborative practices are declared on average, compared to 4.6 in all countries), it seems that it is catching up.
It is above all purchasing of second-hand goods which has much increased (49% of French people have done this more often during the past five years), facilitated by the use of websites such as le Bon Coin, eBay, etc. 34% of French people have borrowed items more during the past five years (+7 points relative to overall). If swapping and rental are a little less developed, the fact remains that nearly one French person in five says he does this more often than previously (18% and 21% of French people respectively claim to have done this more often).
The rise of the sharing economy seems to have been greater in France than elsewhere in recent years for the purchase and sale of second-hand cultural goods (60% of people have already done this compared to 54% overall) and second-hand electrical goods, video and Hi-Fi equipment (55% versus 46% overall). It seems also to be more developed for accommodation rental (directly) from a private individual, for holidays or a short stay (21% against 17% overall).

In the areas of car travel and holiday accommodation rental, major changes are underway

Cars: One French person in seven has already rented a vehicle to a private individual or used a car-sharing service (14% including 6% on the internet). A significant proportion of consumers have done this with their own vehicle (7%). Overall, nearly one French person in seven (19%) states they have already used a vehicle for collaborative purposes. Those aged under 35 are keener, with more than one young person in four claiming they have already used a vehicle in this way (27%). With these figures, we can measure the competition now faced by certain professions such as taxis. In terms of cars, it is hard to see what could curb these practices.

In fact, following the taxi strike on 25 June, we were able to see how little the French were opposed to an application like Uberpop, regardless of the damage it could cause for taxi drivers. Although less than half of them said they were in favour of Uber Pop (46% versus 53% who were not in favour – Odoxa survey - 26 June 2015) it was not rejected by a large majority. In the Paris conurbation, nearly six inhabitants out of 10 are even in favour (57%). Many consumers are now mainly concerned with the advantages which the application could bring them, at a very interesting price. They do not really see the risks of social problems which few people probably consider compared to the gains which can be made.

Accommodation: the French claim even higher usage of the collaborative economy for accommodation than for cars: 21% have already rented a private individual’s accommodation for holidays, while 10% have already proposed theirs for rental. Overall, more than one French person in four is now interested in these behaviours (27%) and nearly one third of those aged under 35 state they have already rented their own accommodation or another private individual’s accommodation for holidays (31%).

At the same time, the French as a very large majority claim that they prefer to borrow or rent a second home for their holidays (76% compared to 65% overall), rather than owning it. People no longer dream of owning a second home. In this area as well, we have difficulty seeing what in the medium term could hamper the explosion of websites for rental of residences for tourist stays, between private individuals.

At face value, the French currently only moderately use collaborative financing: only 11% claim to have already invested in socially-responsible savings products or contributed to the financing of a person’s project or activity. Only 16% have already used one of these two practices. Furthermore, use of these types of financing is already greater among the most privileged socioprofessional categories (29% of directors, senior managers, managers, intellectual professions, etc.) and also among those belonging to the most affluent classes in terms of revenue (21%) and education (21%).

Multiple examples could be given of areas or sectors which are on the point of experiencing relatively large changes in terms of consumption methods. In the learning sector for example: 46% of French people claim to have used a tutorial.

Means of consumption which in the opinion of the French will become standard in the years to come…

More than other nationalities, the French are observing the emergence of these new forms of consumption, described as collaborative (83% compared to 65% overall). In France more than elsewhere, they are even considered to have grown sharply (23% against 14% overall).

The French explain this phenomenon first and foremost by the need to make savings: with the financial crisis, individuals are looking to spend as little as possible (69%). This is the main reason which, according to them, explains the development of these new forms of consumption.

The vast majority also consider that the internet plays an important (50%) or even essential (39%) role in the development of these new means of consumption. For nearly eight French people out of 10, this is now an underlying trend and the phenomenon will grow (77%).

…and which is changing the very boundaries of solidarity

It is in France, and also in other countries where the State social welfare system appears to be failing or losing momentum, that these new collaborative habits are emerging rapidly and seem to be expanding like wild fire. It is no coincidence that they are developing most in the countries where there is now a particular fear of job insecurity and where the feeling of being less and less protected is increasing most: Poland, Italy, Spain… and France.

It is probably one of the most interesting lessons of the survey. For the vast majority of French people, the development of collaborative consumption should rightly lead to a more solidarity-based society (74%). It is rare to find people that think the opposite (26%). The risk that these new forms of consumption will sweep away everything in their path, cause entire professions to disappear (in transport, the hotel industry, etc.) and create both an economic and social revolution is only envisaged by a minority. It seems that they consider, on the contrary, that living in a solidarity-based society is about benefitting from services or goods at a lower cost which we could only “pay for” with difficulty before.

The emergence of these new means of consumption may be partly changing the boundaries of perception which the French have of solidarity. In the current economic context, it seems that being able to take advantage of more services, more easily and at a lower cost is today considered by many as being as a result of solidarity. Going abroad on holiday for four days, using a car with a driver, having a complete toolbox to be the perfect handyman, is now easier to imagine than before.

Many people tend to dissociate the notions of solidarity and free of charge. Hence, while they consider quite logically that certain actions are solidarity-based, like the exchange of services (87%) or a contribution to the creation of a tutorial on the internet (77%), it is more surprising that a money loan via a participative financing website charging interest, is today considered by a majority of French people as being solidarity-based (55%).

Changes to come which raise many questions

The implications of the development of the collaborative economy via digital technologies are immense in an environment where consumers have an increasing tendency to consider that State mechanisms for welfare protection and solidarity are functioning less and less well. This possible change in the boundaries of solidarity is not without raising a certain number of questions about the way in which the situation may change in the near future, in respect to a certain number of issues.

Firstly in the area of social action and humanitarian aid. What will the implications be of the change in the very notion of solidarity as perceived by the French today? Will the dissociation of solidarity and free of charge increase with the development of collaborative consumption? What will the impacts be of this? Will encouraging access to certain paid-for services at a cost that makes them accessible to the most disadvantaged be considered solidarity-based in the future? Will the development of these new collaborative solidarities compete with or complement the action of humanitarian organisations? Will they force humanitarian stakeholders to think about changing their service offering?

In the area of insurance as well. In the collaborative economy in full boom, insurance is today at the heart of things. No service is possible without insurance because people’s confidence stops often at the slightest incident. Which insurance applies in the event of an accident with a car using a car-sharing service or rented under an agreement between private individuals? In this context, insurance companies have a part to play and a certain number of them have now already started to do this.

Regarding solidarity and taxation. Certain services and applications developed in the area of collaborative consumption today partly or wholly escape taxation. Among others, this has been the case with Uberpop. What will be the impacts of the development of collaborative consumption on the relationship the French have with taxation? In 2013 already, only a little more than half of French people still considered payment of tax as being an act of citizenship contributing to the collective effort in the service of the general interest (57% and only 46% of those aged under 35). Nearly one citizen in two approved of the idea of tax exile (45%). Only a minority of French people considered that income tax was “completely” justified (25%).

Above all, does the fact that collaborative consumption is perceived as generating more “solidarities” not risk legitimising an even stronger rejection of solidarity and taxation? Once these services are considered as bringing greater solidarity, why should we pay taxes when we use them?

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