Populating France

Exam results are king in France.


Antoine Bello · June 10, 2021

After the US, we looked at France, a heavily centralized country that has recently drawn praise for migrating many governmental functions online. First, the bad news. Birth records archives are not public until after 75 years past people's birth or 25 years past their death. And unlike the US, voters lists are strictly confidential. There go our two biggest purveyors of names.

Fortunately, France likes grades and exams. The results of the Baccalauréat and various other exams are widely published in the media and are not too difficult to scrape. Each record contains the full identity (first, middle and last names). We assume that the girls' name is also their maiden name and that 95% of candidates are between 17 and 21 (or, in our jargon, 19 with a confidence margin of 2 years).

Only the last three years' results are available online. Hopefully the Internet Archive has more in store. But this is a great start: we now have most of the age class 2000-2002.

We quickly find two more administrative troves: the list of newly naturalized French citizens (complete with date and place of birth) and the list of candidates running for elections. Only 10 people or so run for President but about half a million were candidates in the 2020 municipal elections. That's almost 1% of the entire population!

We continue our journey in the meanders of the French administrations. To advance their career, civil servants such as police officers, engineers and even custodians are encouraged to take internal exams, the results of which are available to the public.

And, like in almost all countries, special professions such as doctors, attorneys or nurses keep lists of their members. The numbers quickly add up.

French sports federations tend to be more transparent than their American counterparts. The table tennis federation ranks no less than 60,000 amateurs! Among other surprising hits are horseback riding, sailing, fencing, ski, swimming and track and field - all individual sports as might be expected.

More disappointing is the absence of a database of civil award and military decoration recipients. No one seems really interested in giving veterans the recognition they deserve…

All in all, France is much more a work in progress than the US, due to the lack of a major all-encompassing source. Yet we've found many reasons to believe.