Geographical characteristicsOriginating from the former French colonial empires (16th - 18th centuries and 19th - 20th centuries), the French overseas territories are located in America, Oceania, the Indian Ocean and Antarctica. Including Terre Adélie (administrative district of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands), the land area of the overseas territories covers more than 552,520 square kilometers, which is almost one fifth of the total French territory. The dispersion of these territories allows France to have the second largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world, behind that of the United States, with a total area of more than ten million square kilometers. The French EEZ thus covers about eight percent of the surface of all the EEZs in the world, while France represents less than half a percent of the world's land area. Because of this EEZ, maritime borders being added to land borders, France is also the country with the largest number of bordering countries, Brazil being the one with which it shares its longest land border (due to French Guiana).
Demographic particularitiesThe demographic situation of the overseas territories presents some specificities compared to metropolitan France. Indeed, while population growth, although still increasing, is slowing down, the situations are very different from one territory to another, and the overseas territories are where the population is both growing and decreasing the fastest. For example, French Guiana is the region in which the population increased the most between 2014 and 2020, with a growth rate of more than two percent, while the regions in which the population declined the most during this period were Martinique and Guadeloupe. The trajectories of the overseas territories are therefore gradually dissociating, and their demographic challenges are now very different. Thus, Martinique and Guadeloupe are seeing their populations age and their demographics decline, mainly due to significant emigration, especially of young adults, while in French Guiana and Mayotte, growth is very strong, the population is very young (in French Guiana, more than half of the population is under 30 years old), and immigration flows from neighboring countries are important.
The demographic challenges faced by these territories are also different, insofar as the territorial constraints differ. For example, while French Guiana and Mayotte have a comparable number of inhabitants, the surface area of the former makes it the largest department in France, while the latter is one of the smallest. The issues are therefore very different. In 2019, the population density was 3.4 inhabitants per square kilometer in French Guiana, making it the least densely populated territory in the country (although this must be nuanced given that a large part of the territory is made up of undevelopable spaces), while that of Mayotte was nearly 700 inhabitants per square kilometer. Only the departments of Île-de-France have higher densities.
Economic challengesOverseas France is also marked by higher levels of poverty than the rest of the country. In 2020, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of the overseas regions was less than 25,000 euros (and even less than 10,000 euros in Mayotte), while the national average was over 40,000 U.S. dollars. Poverty rates are also much higher in overseas regions than in metropolitan France. In 2019, for example, the poverty rate was 2.5 times higher in La Réunion, and twice as high in Martinique. Moreover, in French Guiana, less than a third of people did not live in poverty in 2018, and 29 percent of them even lived in severe poverty, meaning that their standard of living was less than 50 percent of the French median standard of living, and that they faced at least seven out of 13 material and social deprivations. In comparison, one in five people in the metropolitan area lived in poverty (18 percent in poverty, and two percent in deep poverty).
This development gap with metropolitan France is also reflected in the unemployment figures. In 2019, French Guiana had an unemployment rate of more than 34 percent (and even more than 57 percent for the youngest), while France's rate was about eight percent. Even in Martinique, where unemployment seems to be more contained, and fell by two points between 2008 and 2019, the rate was over 23 percent.
The persistence of unemployment in overseas France therefore raises the question of the effectiveness of employment policies in these regions and departments, where important measures have been deployed to address underemployment.