Poland’s plummeting birth rate: why women think twice about motherhood

It is another quiet shift for Ewa Dadalska, head of a maternity ward in the Polish city of Wołomin.

The birth rate in Poland has decreased by 40% over the last 30 years, with women now having an average of 1.4 children.

Ewa shows our reporter Julian Lopez around deserted delivery rooms.

“Just 5 years ago, it would have been unthinkable to have these empty rooms," she says. "At the moment, almost every day these empty beds just stand and wait for potential mothers."

A complex mix of factors

The story behind this phenomenon is complex. Factors such as economic uncertainty, a lack of job security, and changing social attitudes mean that more women are choosing not to have children.

Others link the falling birth rate to Poland’s restrictive abortion laws. Since 2021, abortion is only permitted in cases of rape or incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger.

Agnieszka Szpila is a writer and activist with two severely disabled children.

"Women are extremely afraid of being stuck in my situation," she says. "The only person a (disabled) child can rely on is the mother. Not the society, nor the country, nor the system.”

"Until my children are 18, they have school. But then, they don't have school. They will be sitting with me until the end of their lives. I can't live my life in the way I imagined."

Government-funded programmes

The Polish government is funding programmes to increase the birth rate, such as the Family 500+ child benefit scheme, but these haven’t been hugely effective.

Adding to this problem is the country’s strict immigration policy. Whereas countries like Spain and Portugal also have low birth rates, migrants are filling the demographic gap.

For some, the falling birthrate is a positive sign, as it suggests that women have the freedom to reject expectations surrounding motherhood. A low birth rate often goes hand in hand with a higher GDP and higher levels of education.

That said, Poland is a rapidly ageing nation, and many fear the effects further down the line.