This question indeed makes both existential (to be or not to be) and civilizational (why be?) sense.
In 1983, 723,000 children were born in Poland, and in 2022: 305,000. Add to this the fact that nearly 450,000 people died in our country last year. A year earlier, the ratio was even worse: 330,000 births and 520,000 deaths. In two years’ time, we have shrunk by 335,000 people, which is roughly the population of Poland’s eighth-largest city, Bydgoszcz. There have been various other factors that have negatively affected our demographics in recent years as well. In 2021, the number of deaths increased as a result of COVID. In 2017, 402,000 children were born and the same number of people died, so things remained in balance that year. What may have helped in 2017, albeit only briefly, was a new incentive that was introduced by the state: the “500+” universal child allowance. What would have happened in subsequent years had this 500 zloty-per-child monthly allowance not been introduced? Things would certainly not have improved. But the situation is bad nonetheless – and is only going to get worse. This is because one of the factors contributing to the birth rate’s sharp decline is the rapidly shrinking number of women of childbearing age. This, in turn, is the result of the demographic decline that has been ongoing dramatically since the mid-1990s. In 2013, for example, there were about 360,000 thirty-year-old women; now there are just over 230,000. In ten more years, there will only be 170,000. There are and will be fewer and fewer potential mothers. This makes the issue of whether young women will want to have children at all even more important.
This question indeed makes both existential (to be or not to be) and civilizational (why be?) sense. I reflected on this from a perspective that was new to me when I listened to a report on a study conducted by a team at a higher education institution in Radom concerning the young residents’ ambitions in this medium-sized Polish city. The study included a group of senior high school and college students. Here I should add an aside about their pronouns, which were apparently not only “he” or “she”. It turned out that 6% of the high school respondents, when asked about their sex, chose neither male nor female. (Among college students this phenomenon was non-existent – for now.) The survey was not about “gender” issues, however, but rather about what young people want to do with their lives. All the girls wanted to study, all wanted to achieve “self-actualization”, and the vast majority wanted to move to some bigger city for better “self-actualization.” They thought less, or not at all, about starting a family. The boys were somewhat less “ambitious.” Fewer than 40 percent of the male high school students were thinking about only going to college. A majority were considering combining college with work, or only working. The young men, much more so than the young ladies, reported that they want to remain in their hometown, where they see some prospects for their lives. In simple terms: the girls want to leave their hometown, which they see as a provincial place from which they need to escape in order to find a better world. The guys are sticking more to their natural place on Earth. (Or at least most of them are.) That is what we find in the Radom survey.
The girls will instead head off to the “big city”: Krakow, Warsaw, or Poznan, while some of them are aiming higher still, thinking of moving to London, Brussels, Barcelona, and such places. As a result, in the large Polish cities there are naturally going to be more women than bachelors. In the more provincial towns and medium-sized cities, the reverse is going to be true: many men will be left without a partner. Unless they start pairing up with each other, of course. But in either case, no children will come of it.
This is precisely why the birth rate is a civilizational issue. This was summed up well by my favorite crime series, Fargo. In season two, there is an “emancipation coach” who persuades the young wife of a butcher from a provincial town to free herself from the bonds of marriage, as he claims it is holding back her potential. The wife, played by Kirsten Dunst, is thus enticed to “self-actualize”, as suggested by hundreds of magazines and courses that are aimed at teaching women what their self-fulfillment should look like. First of all, they should have no children. All that matters is ME – conforming to those notions that I slavishly adopt from the female guests who appear on the emancipatory talk shows. The Fargo story does not end well, however. I will not tell you how. I will only quote the young woman’s last words, after she has been shaken by the consequences of her will to “self-realize”: “I just wanted to be somebody.” To this, a police officer answers: “Well, now you’re somebody.”
But there is another heroine in this story as well: the good policeman’s wife. She is suffering from cancer, but fights to the end for the sake of her family and her daughter’s well-being. She sees meaning in it. She does not complain or run away.
Which of these two attitudes will prevail in our society? How to reclaim women in a world that wants to “liberate” them from the family and from themselves?
If we do not find the answer to this question, we will no longer exist. There will be nothing but forests. And that’s how the Green feminists comfort us…
This article was published in July 2023 in “Do Rzeczy” weekly magazine.