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Legislation Applied To Marriage, The Family, And Working Mothers

The intention of lawmakers to meet high standards of equality for all people has resulted in legislation to protect the family and secure women's equal rights. Such ideas have a long tradition in Poland, initiated at the end of the eighteenth century. Legally introduced in socialist Poland, they were manifested by socialist fringe benefits: free access to health care for all, free access to education on all levels of schooling, and retirement benefits. This trend is continued in the most recent, postsocialist Constitution of 1997. The constitution emphasizes eight articles: equality; protection of marriage and the family; protection of children and their rights; protection of pregnant women, working mothers and their offspring; protection of the elderly; and the right to health care are emphasized. Reality, however, falls short of these intentions. Limited family aid, shortages of family services and fixed—but insufficient—family and retirement allowances, and discrimination against women in the labor force confine constitutional rights to aspirations (Malinowska 1995). Legislation evidenced by the Constitution is supplemented by several Legal Codes, amendments and bills, which regulate many aspects of employment and earnings, equal rights, and property.

Among factors modifying family structure and mothers' employment is family planning regulated by the law. Abortion was gradually limited after 1989 and in 1997 was made illegal (except in cases of rape or if the mother's health is at risk). This bill coincides with restrictions in family planning, expensive birth control devices, and limited birth control instructions. Those who perform an illegal procedure face heavy penalties, including imprisonment.

Right-wing, conservative politicians influenced by the Catholic Church who favor larger families argue that this is necessary to secure replacement in the labor force; with the present birth rate labor shortages will occur in the future. They also cite nationalistic reasons: to increase the size of the Polish population. This faction also wants to keep women out of the work force and argues that combining work and motherhood is a burden for the economy because of necessary expenses on family allowances and child care, as well as paid maternal leave of absence, and paid health care for the expectant mother and her child. Such arguments attempt to justify keeping women away from the labor market and persuading them to have more children while staying at home and taking care of the family. In reality, narrowing of the number of women in the labor force increases the chances for male workers' employment under the free market competition. Officially, the most often recommended method of birth control was either total abstinence or the rhythm method. The Catholic Church supported such recommendations. Feminist organizations are few, with small membership. Their influence on family law, politics, and women's employment is secondary.

Other significant aspects of the law regarding family life and women's employment are family violence and sexual harassment. Traditionally, Polish legislation abstained from addressing those issues, and laws were not always clear. Changes introduced in 2000 in divorce law included formal separation for the purpose of reducing the number of divorces granted. Instituting an official separation allows only for the temporary protection of marriage, justifying it as a benefit to the children. In case of divorce, absent parents had to pay child support.

Age of retirement is determined according to gender: women retire at age sixty, men at sixty-five. The law protects working women in general, pregnant working women, and working mothers and allows them to combine employment and motherhood. As a result of such protective laws, TABLE 1

TABLE 1 Population and demographic indications of marital status and the family, Poland
Indications 1964 1970 1980 1990 1998 1999 Comments
Poland: population - total 31,3 32,6 35,7 38,1 38,7 38,7 in millions
Population - urban 49.5 52.3 58.8 61.5 61.8 61.8 in %
Population - rural 50.5 47.7 41.2 38.5 38.2 38.2 in %
Population**: age 60+ 10.8 13.0 13.2 15.0 16.2 16.5 in % of total
Population***: age 65+ 6.6 8.4 10.0 10.2 11.9 12.0 in % of total
Marriages contracted 7.6 8.5 8.6 6.7 5.4 5.7 per 1000 population
Median age at marriage****: men 25.6 24.1 24.9 24.9 24.9 (1996)
Median age at marriage****: women 22.3 21.6 22.7 22.7 22.6 (1996)
Divorces granted 0.7 1.05 1.1 1.1 1.2 1.1 per 1000 population
Live births 15.5 16.6 19.5 14.3 10.2 9.9 per 1000 population
Infant mortality rates - total 47.3 33.4 21.3 15.9 9.5 8.9 per 1000 live births
urban 41.7 31.6 21.0 15.7 9.7 9.2 per 1000 live births
rural 51.4 34.8 21.7 16.2 9.4 9.4 per 1000 live births
Non-marital births 4.6 (1966) 4.9 4.7 4.7 6.1 11.0 (1997)
in % of total births
Natural increase 8.5 10.5 9.6 4.1 0.5 0.0 per 1000 population
Families – single mothers 11.3 11.8 13.6 (1988) 15.0 (1995) in % of total families (data include never married, divorced, and widowed)
Families – single fathers 1.4 1.5 (1978) 1.7 1.8 (1995) in % of total families (data include never married, divorced, and widowed)
** - Retirement for women = 60 years of age
*** - Retirement for men = 65 years of age
**** Marriage and remarriage
SOURCES: Based on the author's calculations using the folowing sources: Publications of the Glówny Urzad Statystyczny (Central Statistical Office) in Warsaw.
Rocznik Statystyczny 2000 (Statistical Yearbook 2000). pp. XXXVIII-XXXIX; 96; 102-103; 128; 248; 269; 271.
Rocznik Statystyczny 1999 (Statistical Yearbook 1999). pp. XXXVI-XXXVII; 97, 100, 103.
Rocznik Statystyczny 1998 (Statistical Yearbook 1998). pp. LXXVI; XXXIX; 97; 100-104; 126-27; 182; 271, 291; 293.
Rocznik Statystyczny 1997 (Statistical Yearbook 1997). p. 103.
Rocznik Statystyczny 1992 (Statistical Yearbook 1992). pp. 45.
Rocznik Statystyczny 1991 (Statistical Yearbook 1991). pp. XXXII-XXXIII, 49-50.
Rocznik Statystyczny 1990 (Statistical Yearbook 1990). pp. XXIV-XXV, 39-41.
Rocznik Statystyczny 1987 (Statistical Yearbook 1987). pp. 49.
Rocznik Statystyczny 1981 (Statistical Yearbook 1986). pp. 51.
Rocznik Statystyczny 1981 (Statistical Yearbook 1981). pp. XXXIII, 54-6.
Rocznik Statystyczny 1971 (Statistical Yearbook 1971). pp. 84, 90-1, 94.
Rocznik Statystyczny 1966 (Statistical Yearbook 1966). pp. 50.
Rocznik Statystyczny 1965 (Statistical Yearbook 1965). pp. 29; 44-5; 63; 247.
Rocznik Demograficzny 1967-68 (Demographic Yearbook 1967-68). pp. 238.
Rocznik Demograficzny 1971 (Demographic Yearbook 1971). pp. 166.
Rocznik Demograficzny 1987 (Demographic Yearbook 1987). pp. 122.
Rocznik Demograficzny 1993 (Demographic Yearbook 1993). pp. 140.

employers consider women unreliable workers. Patterns of discrimination carried over from the pre-1989 period include a largely sex-segregated labor market and a preference for hiring male workers, followed by inferior jobs and lower incomes for women, aggravated by a higher unemployment rate (which reached 17.4% in December 2001) and by a disproportionate increase in women's unemployment. In 2001, women's unemployment reached approximately 60 percent of the total unemployment. Seventy-five percent of working women earn average salaries below the national level ("Wydarzenia" 2001).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsPoland - Changes In Population And Demographic Structure Since The 1960s, Legislation Applied To Marriage, The Family, And Working Mothers