How wages and pensions in the UK and France compare

30 January 2023
What was claimed

French workers retire 6 years earlier.

Our verdict

The legal minimum retirement age at which someone can claim their pension in France is currently 62, while in the UK it’s currently 66. The gap in actual average retirement ages may be different.

What was claimed

French pensions are three times higher than those in the UK.

Our verdict

Total net pensions in France account for 74% of previous earnings, compared to around 58% in the UK. This doesn’t account for other benefits, or how much people pay into them.

What was claimed

French wages are 25% higher.

Our verdict

The OECD estimates that in 2021 the average annual wage in the UK was £39,184, while the average annual wage in France was €40,115 (approx. £35,000). When taking into account the difference in price levels, the average wages of both countries are worth roughly the same.

What was claimed

Energy bills in France are about 40% of those in Britain.

Our verdict

The regulated unit price of electricity in France is about 40% of that in Great Britain, while the price of gas is about the same. So it’s plausible that an electricity-only household in France might pay around 40% that of an equivalent in the UK, excluding any cash benefits that may be available to support people with their bills—and not taking account of how much energy people actually use.

A tweet which has been retweeted more than 5,000 times, and also shared on Facebook, makes a number of comparisons between France and the UK, claiming that French workers are “better off” and that this is “because they strike”.

We’ve taken a look at some of the specific figures mentioned in the post, not all of which are accurate.

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Retirement age

The post claims that French workers “retire 6 years earlier” than British workers. That’s not currently the case, at least when you compare official retirement ages.

The minimum age at which someone can receive the full state pension in France is currently 62. In the UK, people reaching retirement now become eligible to receive their state pension at 66.

In France, widespread strike action has been taking place over proposals to increase the legal minimum retirement age by two years, to 64, by 2030.

The UK is also set to gradually increase the state pension age to 67 between 2026 and 2028, and then again to 68 by 2044. (Although it’s recently been reported this increase may take place sooner.)

These figures show the minimum age at which people become eligible to receive a state pension in each country—not the average age at which people actually retire.


The claim that French pensions are “3x higher” requires a lot of context as the two pension systems are quite different.

The UK state pension is a broadly flat amount (between £141.85 and £185.15 per week), not tied to how much someone earned while working. UK workers often also take out private occupational pensions to provide income in retirement.

In France, the pension system consists of a basic scheme, which provides a minimum payment (of between around £134 and £146 per week) but can pay out more depending on past earnings, and also a mandatory occupational scheme. These are both public schemes

So if you compare the average public pensions in the UK and France, the payments in France are considerably higher—although we’re not sure on what basis they could be called three times higher, as claimed. 

That’s also not a particularly good comparison because it ignores the considerable private element in the UK. 

When you look at total pensions (and the Facebook post doesn’t specify it is talking about public pensions only), French pensions are still higher, but not as much as claimed. 

A common way to compare pension values is using “replacement rates” which consider pension earnings as a share of previous earnings. 

In 2021, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published data showing that in France, net pensions accounted for 74% of previous earnings, while in the UK they account for about 58%. 

These don’t account for any other benefits pensioners may receive, or the amount people are taxed, or otherwise contribute to pension schemes, and how this may affect their income levels earlier in life. 


While this claim isn’t particularly clear, when looking at the average pay of people in France and the UK, it doesn’t appear to be the case that French workers’ wages are overall “25% higher”.

The OECD produces estimates for the average annual full-time wages in its member countries.

In 2021 this was £39,184 in the UK and €40,115 (approx. £35,000) in France.

These comparisons don’t take into account the different price levels in each country (the cost of living is lower in France so you don’t need to earn as much as you do in the UK to have a similar purchasing power).

However, when this is taken into account, the OECD estimates that the average wages in France and the UK are worth roughly the same, at $49,313 and $49,979 respectively.

Looking at wages alone doesn’t necessarily offer a full picture of who is “better off”, as these figures don’t show things like what workers in each country pay in taxes or receive in benefits.

Last year the Resolution Foundation published a report which found that, in 2018, households in France had a median disposable income (which it measured as equivalised household income after taxes, benefits and housing costs) around 10% higher than UK households, and were also more financially resilient (meaning they would be able to make ends meet for longer if their main source of income stopped), following a sustained period of weak growth in the UK.

Energy bills

The post claims that energy bills in France are “40% of ours”.

This may come from an article by the Daily Telegraph which reported that, in August 2022 when the average British household under the energy price cap was paying around £1,971 per year, French customers on regulated tariffs were paying around 41% of this (£803). We’ve not been able to verify the French figure. 

To combat rising energy costs, the French government has implemented “tariff shields” restricting the amount by which the state energy supplier EDF can increase prices.

Since August, the UK Government has implemented an “energy price guarantee” set lower than the old cap on the unit price of gas and electricity until April 2023, which means a typical household energy bill would cost around £2,500 if kept at this level for a year. 

It's possible that an electricity-only customer in France would be paying around 40% that of a GB customer, before any other support is taken into account.

The current unit price of electricity under the guarantee in Great Britain (the situation is different in Northern Ireland) is 34p per kWh, over double that under EDF’s regulated “Tarif Bleu” of 17.4¢ per kWh (14.8p). 

Both countries also have an ongoing fee, which in GB is the standing charge of around £14 per month, and with EDF is a monthly subscription of around €9 to €20 per month.

In Britain, gas under the guarantee costs 10p per kWh and the standing charge is about £8.50 per month. In France, gas under the regulated tariff costs between 10.4¢ and 12.8¢ per kWh and the monthly subscription is between about €9 and €21 per month, depending on use.

So while regulated gas prices are broadly similar, electricity is much cheaper in France and it's plausible an electricity-only household in France might be paying 40% that of an equivalent household in Britain. (All GB prices are averages and will vary by region, payment method and meter type.)

These figures don’t take into account any other support that may be on offer. For example, the UK Government has also provided £400 to households to help pay bills and has support schemes for low-income and vulnerable individuals.

Besides the different levels of government intervention, various other factors influence energy bills in the UK and France, such as how the energy market works in each country, sources of energy, and patterns of energy usage.

Image courtesy of Anthony Choren

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