Marriage, gender and demographic change: managing fertility in state-socialist Poland
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history of the familyhistory of sexualitystate-socialist Polandhistory of contraceptiongender history
SponsorshipThe research for this article was developed within two research projects funded by the National Science Centre, Poland (projects number 2016/21/D/HS3/02739 and 2019/33/B/HS3/01068), and has benefited from the Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences’ internal grant for English language-editing.
This paper explores fertility management practices in state-socialist Poland and investigates post-war demographic change through the lenses of gender and modernization. Using personal narratives in oral histories and memoirs, we examine reproductive decision-making processes from the 1940s to the 1980s, focusing on motivations, norms and the means employed to achieve a desired family size. Our analysis reveals the ambiguous nature of both modernization and women’s emancipation in regard to reproduction. We argue that acceptance of the two-child model and the need to effectively manage fertility increased in Poland through the second half of the 20th century, but was highly dependent on levels of spousal communication and equality. Personal narratives demonstrate how women’s reproductive choices were shaped by social pressure, and at times considerably limited by male violence and domination. As our analysis shows, gender relations in marriage and the modernization of fertility management in state-socialist Poland were deeply interrelated.