The key soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Hamlet has the title ‘hero’ asking “To be or not to be? That is the question.” A modern twist on this query seems to have emerged though, now asking “To breed or not to breed?” This was highlighted by the cover of a recent publication of Wprost magazine, which indicated that 54% of young Poles indicate that they do not wish to have children. There might be some surprise at this but when considered in more detail, it probably makes sense, and in a way would be seen as a sign of progress.
To begin with, it’s probably worth analysing the Wprost article in a little more detail. A study was performed by the Institute of Statistics and Demography, part of the Warsaw School of Economics, where a group of Poles aged 20-39 were questioned about their desire to have children. The general tone of the article is quite negative, with phrases such as “demographics abyss”, “fertility gap” and touching on the likelihood of retirement ages being increased as a result. But this topic is nothing new, as it has been identified in Western countries for some time now that birth rates are dropping, and the ‘magic number’ of approximately 2.2 children per family which is needed to maintain stable population levels is not being met in most European countries, at least.
However, there is always the flip-side to be considered in such an argument. A very interesting TED talk by a Swedish professor called Hans Rosling from 2006 covered the topic of birth rates worldwide against child mortality rates while focussing on how this information can be best presented using statistical data. His presentation focused on how such information was displayed and presented, but the background data was also very interesting. He was able to show that over time, as women had more and more access to education, they became more empowered and less likely to have large families. As levels of education and knowledge increased, child mortality rates decreased and children were better looked after. Of course the main part of his presentation looked to Asian and African countries that made huge improvements on child mortality rates in order to come in line with levels of the rest of the world.
Rosling’s message then seems valuable when considering the news that Poles are less likely to have children. As generations tend to reach higher and higher levels of education and knowledge is spread further and faster using technology, will we reach the stage where more and more couples decide that children would not be part of their plans? (There will always be unplanned pregnancies, but the instances of those will also be dropping through various contraceptive methods.) There is also the factor of costs of raising children to account for. It was reported two years ago in the Guardian that the cost to raise a child in the UK to the age of 21 has reached £200,000. In the US, the rate averages at about $170,000 to raise a child to 18. Of course, these rates would not apply (yet anyways) in Poland as the cost of living is not so high. However, the message remains the same – having kids increases your expenditures.
This will seem like a very dry and heartless view of the possibility of having children, but the article by Wprost indicates that more and more young people are taking this approach. Young Poles tend to be well-educated, well-informed and are beginning to earn money at rates that their parents could barely have imagined. They can now choose when in their lives they wish to plan to have children, or increasingly so, if they wish to have children at all.