Poland’s Demographic Demise Proves Kaczyński Wrong

Why women in Poland do not bear more children

22 November 2022

Paweł Marczewski

Marcin Król Fellow

Context – Jarosław Kaczyński’s comments sparked a political communication outburst and also pointed to a real-life problem that PiS has pledged to solve, but has failed to tackle despite being in power since 2015 and allocating a lot of money to designated programmes.

“Demographic panic”, fear of declining populations, has been on the minds of Central European leaders for quite some time.

Firstly, just after EU accession, decision-makers in Central Europe feared brain drain and large-scale migration to more affluent Western European countries. More recently, since Central Europe entered the phase of demographic development characterised by low fertility rates and longer life expectancy, declining birthrates seem to be one of the main concerns of (mainly conservative) Central European politicians.

Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of the ruling Law and Justice party in Poland, is no exception. However, his recent comments about the reasons for the declining fertility rate in the country do not bode well for the efficiency of the government’s plans to tackle the problem.

Speaking at a rally in Ełk, a town in northeastern Poland, Mr Kaczyński said that the low fertility rate is a matter of “attitude” and pointed to Warsaw as the most affluent Polish city with the lowest fertility rate. He continued with a remark that caused particular indignation in the media: “if it continues to be the case that, by the age of 25, girls, young women, drink as much as their male peers, there won’t be children.”

Dubious declarations

Kaczyński’s claim that levels of alcohol consumption among young urban Polish women are the reasons why they do not want to have children has no backing in data. Based on stereotypical thinking, it is rather meant as a symbolic nod to older, rural voters suspicious and sometimes also anxious about urban youth.

Not long ago, a statement about Warsaw being a city with the lowest fertility rate would be equally baseless. In 2019,  the Polish capital, along with seven other big cities, had a birth rate higher than 1.5 while the average for Poland at the time was 1.42. Experts explained this difference with better access to childcare services and better perspectives for young mothers to balance careers with motherhood in big cities. In 2021, however, according to the data from National Census, the fertility rate for Poland dropped to 1.32 and it sunk even more in Warsaw – to 1.22.

Reasons for this decline are far more complicated than “attitude.” When asked by in an opinion poll conducted by Ipsos in December 2021 about obstacles to having children, young Polish women named “fear of losing their jobs” (41 per cent), “insufficient funds to afford a child” (39 per cent) and “risk of being pregnant” (33 per cent). The third most often named factor is directly linked to a draconian law that makes legal abortion in Poland almost impossible since the politically controlled Constitutional Tribunal ruled on the matter in October 2020.

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The statement by chairman Kaczyński contradicts not only what we know about reasons why young Polish women do not want to have children, but it also undermines policies of his own government stated in the newly published “Demographic Strategy 2040.” The main goals of the strategy are providing more financial security to families and removing obstacles to combining childcare with work.

To borrow a few of Kaczyński’s words, if it continues to be the case that government focuses on the attitude of young women instead of the actual needs of mothers and future mothers, there won’t be children.



This article has been prepared in the framework of a cooperation programme between major press titles in Central Europe led by Visegrad Insight at the Res Publica Foundation.

Featured Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Paweł Marczewski

Marcin Król Fellow

Marcin Król Fellow. Paweł Marczewski is head of the research unit Citizens at the ideaForum, think tank of the Batory Foundation, a member of the Carnegie Civic Research Network, and an affiliated researcher at the SWPS Youth Study Center. He holds a PhD in sociology from the University of Warsaw. His main areas of interest are relations between demographic changes and democracy, social movements, civil society organizations, and social justice. He is a contributing writer at the weekly Tygodnik Powszechny and a member of the editorial board of Przegląd Polityczny quarterly, his comments and articles appeared also in the Nation, Public Seminar, Eurozine, as well as major Polish dailies Gazeta Wyborcza and Rzeczpospolita. In the years 2011-2017, he was an assistant professor at the Department of Sociology at the University of Warsaw, in 2015-2017 also head of publications at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna.

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