Family is undoubtedly one of the most important elements of the life of many. However, have you ever wondered what the word “family” really means? The definition has been changing over the years and so has the model of a traditional household. In 1948 United Nations created a definition that reads as follows: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”. Now, I would like to quote a statement made by U.S. Census Bureau in 2005, so 57 years after the UN’s one: “A family consists of two or more people, one of whom is the householder, related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing in the same housing unit. A household consists of all people who occupy a housing unit regardless of relationship. A household may consist of a person living alone or multiple unrelated individuals or families living together.”. It seems that a lot has changed over 57 years when you compare those two definitions. In this article I will present some of these changes that have taken place within the last 50 years in family structure in Poland, taking into consideration some particular factors.
Number of married couples
In the last 50 years, we have been able to observe major changes in the number of married couples. Currently, the number of people who decide not to change their marital status is increasing. Those differences result from changes in public opinion, traditions and customs. Now unmarried cohabitation is not so widely perceived as some kind of sin or shame. Numerous people in the 60’s and 70’s thought about the marriage as some kind of obligation or they just wanted to follow moral and religious principles. An unmarried couple living together was almost scandalous. Nowadays, we see that many pairs decide to live together without the sacrament of matrimony. They probably either don’t want to make such a responsible choice at a young age or desire to try living together before actually tying the knot. We must not forget about the people who just decide to remain single. This might be because of difficulties with relationships, a desire to stay independent, a career or simply natural state of being.
Regrettably, the divorce rate has been increasing in the last 50 years. The causes of divorces are frequently really complicated, nevertheless, they might be connected with the fact that people have stopped thinking about marriage as something sacred and everlasting (which is also linked with the cause of the decreasing number of marriages). In 1960 approximately 6 pairs out of 100 were divorced. In 1981 the figures increased to 12 out of 100 and in 2016- 35 out of 100. The difference of 19 points between 1960 and 2016 is really alarming. Sadly, the statistics forecast a steady rise in divorce rate, which may cause several disturbances of the family model in the future.
There’s been a change in the number of family members over the years. Formerly, the most popular model of family was parents with 3 or more children. The main differences occurred in the 60’s- at the time when work started to influence people’s lives and women had to combine their work with raising children. People used to live in extended families, often with their grandparents and other relatives. This habit changed completely after the labour migration had begun- young people started moving out in order to find jobs. Then, they started their own families in different places, which afterwards created the idea of an immediate family. Nowadays, households are ordinarily small. More and more couples decide not to have kids in order to pursue their careers or because of lack of time.
As I’ve mentioned before, in the 60’s women began their work careers. They needed to reconcile working and family life, therefore, workplace nurseries started to be popular. Sometimes when the model of extended family was still very common, grandparents took care of children while both of the kids’ parents had to work. 20th century was also the beginning of a different fatherhood- some men (instead of women) started taking care of children. It was a significant change- the first time in the history of family, the father took over childcare. Currently, the role of both parents is equally significant. Moreover, paternity leaves are becoming more common- fathers decide to take greater part in a rising their children.
Birth rate had been increasing especially in the 80’s. 1983 was the year of the highest birth rate in the history of Poland (almost 724 000 births). Since then, birth rate in Poland decreased by approximately 35-40%. The cause of this dramatic fall in given births were (and still are) decisions made by young people to delay parenthood until the end of education. This is particularly true to women who want to finish higher education before having children. Another factor which plays an important role in declining birth rate is a steady fall in the number of marriages.
In summary, in the last 50 years we have seen considerable changes in the family structure in Poland caused by our history and a change in social conventions. It’s hard to say what the traditional family will look like in the next 50 years because of our constant development. Maybe we should pay attention to bringing back the original model of family, altered to fit all the changes that occur in our lives.