Values of children and the life course: a Polish case

Monika Mynarska, Institute of Psychology, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University

In a context of extremely low levels of birth rates across Europe, understanding fertility choices is set as a priority goal for demographers nowadays. In our study, we address an issue of motivation towards childbearing and we explore values of children that underlie this motivation. We place our research in the Polish context, as it appears to be a quite “puzzling-case”, where lowest-low fertility appears in a family-oriented society. We analyse 48 in-depth interviews, conducted in 2004/2005 with the young Polish couples. We find main three categories of benefits, connected to the childbearing: positive emotions, a protection against an old-age and following the normal life-cycle. The two latter categories, connected to the socially constructed image of a life-course, are crucial for fertility choices. First, we find that the respondents have particularly unfavourable imaginations about an old-age. People fear to get old and they see their offspring as a remedy against all the bad things associated with this stage of life. Second, childbearing is perceived as a natural outcome of individual’s and couple’s development, a turning point, which opens an important stage in a normal life cycle. Childbearing gives a status of an adult, it constitutes a family and improves the quality of the parents’ relationship. An image of parenthood as something natural and normal carries important consequences: childless people are perceived as not following the standard life-course and meet social disapproval. We identify various social sanctions for childlessness. Apparently childlessness in not an acceptable option in Poland and the only things which are open to discussion are: when to have children and how many. Moreover, we conclude that a transition to parenthood should be studied, embedded in the in the life-long chain of states and events. A choice to have a child is influenced by the past experiences, but also by the expectations as to the future.

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Presented in Poster Session 1