Tribune. The hypothesis according to which we are witnessing an “urban exodus” in favor of medium-sized towns and rural areas, very often put forward, is difficult to validate or invalidate, due to the absence of sufficiently recent data on residential mobility.
To get around this problem, we used data from the Ministry of National Education on school enrollment, at the inter-municipal level in mainland France, available until the start of the September 2021 school year. Our hypothesis is that if a significant number people are leaving metropolises in favor of medium-sized cities or rural areas, so we must observe a relative drop in school enrollment since the start of the 2019 school year in the largest cities, compared to smaller cities.
Let us first focus on enrollment in the first level (nursery, elementary and primary schools). For mainland France as a whole, the enrollment dynamic has been declining since 2016, due to the country’s demographics: 108,000 fewer registrations before the crisis, between the start of the 2016 school year and the 2019 start of the school year, 84,000 fewer between 2019 and 2020, and another 87,000 fewer between 2020 and 2021.
The communities of municipalities, which were less well than average before the crisis, have therefore been doing better since
This decline is however far from being geographically homogeneous. Before the health crisis (2016-2019), registrations in the twenty-two metropolises were up + 0.14% per year, while they fell in the country (- 0.56%). Between the start of the 2020 school year and the start of the 2021 school year, they fell sharply in metropolitan areas (- 1.76%), more than in the country as a whole (- 1.40%). Metropolises, which were doing better than average before the crisis, have been doing worse than average since.
At the other extreme of the size range of intermunicipal bodies, the communities of municipalities, whose registrations fell more than the average before the crisis (- 1.28% on average per year against – 0.56% in the country) , continue to see a drop in registrations between the start of the 2020 school year and the start of the 2021 school year (drop of – 1.26%), but less, this time, than in the country as a whole (- 1.40%). The communities of municipalities, which were less well than average before the crisis, have therefore been better since.
The trend in secondary school enrollment (middle and high schools), which has been growing since 2009 and declining slightly over 2020-2021 across the country, is less clear geographically: metropolitan areas, more dynamic before the crisis, remain so since the start of the 2019 school year, while the communities of municipalities, less dynamic before the crisis, have remained so ever since. However, the difference between these two categories of territories has narrowed significantly, with the difference in growth rates between metropolitan areas and communities of municipalities dropping from + 0.85% per year between 2016 and 2019 to + 0.51% between 2020. and 2021.
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“Are we witnessing an“ urban exodus ”in favor of medium-sized towns and rural areas? ”