Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Depopulating Polish cities?

An interesting link from Tutkaj News last Friday to a story in Rzeczpospolita suggesting that for the past decade a mass migration had been taking place out of Poland's largest cities. The numbers - based on official statistics of residency registers (the meldunek) - show that with the exception of Warsaw, Kraków and Gdańsk, Poland's remaining cities have seen a steady but consistent fall in population since 2000. Click on chart (below - which I've anglicised) for full details.


There are many factors which make this story more complex than the headlines suggest. Notice the difference in the trend before and after EU Accession in 2004. You'd think that the falling trend lines (in red, above) between 2005 and 2010 would be steeper than the 2000-2005 ones. And yet this is not the case. Between 2005 and 2010 Poland's population shrank (officially, I stress) by 100,000. The migration effect is evidently not taken into consideration; around 600,000 Poles have taken up near-permanent residence in the UK since it opened its labour market to them in May 2004.

Then there's the meldunek story. Since the end of communism, Poles (especially young ones) have not taken the mandatory residence registration seriously. Many young people living and working in the big cities - or indeed abroad - are still registered at their parents' address in rural or small town Poland. And then cities are growing outward; GUS still counts people registered within the cities' limits whereas a more realistic measure would be metropolises or agglomerations which are huge travel-to-work areas.

But above all, even on the raw GUS data, the figures tell another story. The population losses of Łódź, Katowice, Poznań, Bydgoszcz, Szczecin, Lublin and Wrocław total just under 150,000, while the gains of Warsaw and Kraków total just over 120,000. So it looks like two cities are drawing away the populations of seven others.

My view is that migration - both internal and abroad - acts a safety valve for Poland, with people more mobile than ever before, ready to move to follow the jobs. Crime rates have dropped noticeably since Poland joined the EU (indeed crime has fallen faster in Poland than in any other EU country in the post-accession period).

At the same time, despite a noticeable 'uptick' in births (due to the largest Polish generation born around 1980 now at prime child-bearing age), Poland is suffering a serious demographic decline. This factor, taken together with emigration, and the graphs above actually look quite positive.

Poles are moving as never before - from country to town, from town to city, and abroad. What we've yet to see is wealthy retired Poles moving back into the countryside from the cities, searching for rural tranquility - as in Britain. It will take generations yet before this pattern emerges in Poland.

This time last year:
Powiśle of a winter's morning

This time two years ago:
Sunny, snowy Jeziorki

This time three years ago:
Eddie's giant soap bubble


Anonymous said...

What's up with the medunek thing, anyway? About 2 years ago it was supposed to be eliminated, but apparently it never happened.

Anonymous said...

Note that the post-2004 migration to the UK and other places is/was in itself a geographically diverse phenomenon. It is (presumably) taking place to a much smaller extent in Warsaw than it does in Polish provincial town and cities. Over last few years Warsaw in fact competed with London or Dublin for Polish workforce than acted as a supplier.

Anonymous said...

I think that true demographic picture of Poland should be based on census records and not registration records. Are those available?
Re. The wealthy British retired people migrating to the country in search of tranquility. Perhaps there is another explanation. Surely, not every wealthy person in their winter years would want to settle for that. I know I wouldn’t.