In this third episode of our series on Central European countries’ most remarkable – or deplorable – achievements, we take a closer look at the areas where Poland tops the charts… for better or for worse.
1. Being Poles
No, seriously, although multi-ethnicity has been, throughout much of its history, one of Poland’s defining traits, this is not the case anymore. Today, the country has the lowest share of foreign-born population in Europe and all OECD countries: although figures differ from one study to the next, between 250.000 and 300.000 people currently living in Poland on a permanent basis are believed to be non-nationals. This amounts to less than 1% of its total population, compared to an OECD average of 12%.
A small change has occurred in recent years, with the massive arrival of Ukrainian workers, especially since the outburst of the conflict – cheap workforce welcomed by Polish companies amidst important domestic labour shortages. It’s estimated that over 1 million Ukrainians work in Poland. A vast majority of them, however, stay there on a temporary basis, going back and forth without truly settling there.
Poland is therefore part of the handful of European countries – along with Portugal, Croatia, Latvia and Lithuania – where emigrants outnumber immigrants.
2. Living Abroad
Despite being one of the least ethnically diverse nations in Europe and the world, Poland is, on the other hand, a strong driver for multi-ethnicity… in other countries. The Polish diaspora abroad is considered one of the biggest and most widely dispersed in the world. The Polish Foreign Ministry estimates that around 18 to 20 million people of Polish descent are currently living abroad, mostly in North and South America (12 million) and Western Europe (4 million).
If we only take into account the Polish-born people living abroad, the figures are, of course, much lower. According to the U.N. World Migration Report, around 4.5 million Poles are currently living in another country, making it the 12th biggest diaspora in the world in absolute terms. The U.K., home to 850.000 Poles, is their main destination, followed by Germany, France, the U.S. and Ireland.
But let’s have a closer look at the figures. Sure, the Polish diaspora lags far behind India’s (15 million citizens living in a foreign country), Mexico’s (12 million), Russia’s or China’s (10 million each), to name only a few. However, the biggest diasporas actually represent a small share of their country’s total population: national emigrants account for 1.2% of India’s population, 0.8% of China’s, 4.4% of Bangladesh’s and 3% of Pakistan’s. Polish emigrants, on the other hand, represent almost 12% of the overall population, making it one of the biggest diasporas per capita in the world, only topped by war-torn countries like Syria (30%), Afghanistan (14%) or Ukraine (13%).
3. Not having any babies
With 1.32 live births per woman (compared to 2.06 in 1990), Poland has the second lowest fertility rate in Europe after Portugal. The proportion of children in the country’s population dropped dramatically during the last decades, from 24% in 1994 to 15% today. Although this sharp decrease has many factors, one is linked to Poland’s emigration drive. Among the 2 million people who left the country since the country’s EU accession in 2004, the vast majority of them are young adults, in the prime of their “child-bearing” age, so to speak : the fertility rate of Polish women living in the U.K. or Germany stands at 2.1.
The combination of young “fertile” people leaving the country and women back home not having any babies quite naturally results in the ageing of the Polish population, and fast! If the median age stood at 25.8 years old in 1950, it’s now 38.2. By 2050, Poland’s total population could decrease by 5 million. If nothing is done to address it, the socio-economic consequences of this demographic decline could be dramatic.
4. Believing in God
In many studies, Poland stands out as the most religious country in Europe. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 86% of Poles say they believe in God, a staggering amount if we compare it to its Visegrad neighbours: 59% in Hungary and only 29% in the Czech Republic! A thorough WIN/Gallup poll mapped all the countries in the world according to their religious affiliation. Once again, Poland stands out as the most religious in Europe (86%), far outranking other nations like Romania (77%), Italy (74%) or Greece (71%). The younger generations appear as pious as their elders, with 82% of them identifying as Catholic.
Worldwide, however, dozens of countries report over 95% of religious affiliation, mainly in South and South-East Asia, the Middle-East and Africa.
To be thorough, we should also add that Poland isn’t immune to the rise of secularism. To explain this phenomenon, observers point to a number of factors, from the death of widely popular Pope John-Paul II to growing frustration over what is seen as the clergy’s attempts to take sides in political power struggles. Signs of this creeping secularism can be seen in various aspects of daily life – 40% report attending regular Sunday mass, and twice as less in big cities like Warsaw or Krakow – and in social and moral issues – a growing number of Polish Catholics are not shy to go against the Church’s official stance on divisive topics like same-sex marriage or abortion.
There are, after all, many different ways to be Catholic in Poland, as Kafkadesk reported last month.
5. Growing fruit
Have a look in your basket. Chances are a lot of what you’ll find there comes from Poland, one of the most important producers of fruits and vegetables in Europe. One in every four European apples is grown in Poland, only outranked, worldwide, by China and the United States. The country’s leading position on that market put it at the frontline of the EU-Russia economic war following the annexation of Crimea. When Moscow’s embargo came into effect, Poland was hit hard: more than half of their apples were, at that time, exported to the Russian market and the country suddenly found itself with millions of apples on its hands.
But that’s not all. Poland is also the first European producer of cherries (30%) and carrots (15%), produces 20% of the bloc’s cucumbers and is the second biggest producer of strawberries (17%) after Spain. You’ll also be glad to know that approximately one third of the mushrooms consumed in Europe comes from Poland.
If you liked this article, be sure to check out the other ones from the same series: