Przegląd Geograficzny (2022) vol. 94, iss. 2
Changes in population in rural areas of Poland as set against their levels of socio-economic development
Przegląd Geograficzny (2022) vol. 94, iss. 2, pp. 175-198
Rural areas in Poland have recently been witnessing an intensive process of transformation of economic structure inter alia manifesting in a change of the occupational structure characterising inhabitants. Development of non-agricultural ways of utilising the farms present in rural areas is tending confer a multifunctional character upon these, with populations growing even as the role of agriculture as a source of income for inhabitants is in decline. On the other hand, marginal areas with a still-dominant agricultural function continue to experience considerable loss of population. One of the effects of these observable process entails change in types of rural settlement.
Considering Poland’s local-authority areas (at the level of the so-called gmina), the authors here hypothesise that levels of socio-economic development correlate with trends as regards population change, in that gminas already enjoying a high(er) level of development undergo population increase, while the rural areas lagging behind in terms of development continue to depopulate.
The aim of the work presented here has that been to consider a method by which to better determine gminas’ levels of socio-economic development, as developed within the Monitoring of Rural Development in Poland framework. A further objective is to ensure enhancement of existing knowledge regarding changes in the spatial distribution of rural populations in line with both levels of socio-economic development in given areas and structural features characterising those levels. Comparisons with the statistical databases of Poland’s Central Statistical Office (Statistics Poland) are then made, to allowing growing and depopulating villages to be distinguished from each other.
Results confirm a steady evolution of the spatial differentiation characterising Poland’s rural population, with the actual effect being for population in regions located far from larger cities to decrease, even as that in suburban areas goes on increasing. However, the work also confirms how developmental differences arising during the era of Poland’s (18th-20th-century) Partitions between Russia, Prussia and Austria continue to influence the condition and development of particular parts of the country.
Relationships between levels of socio-economic development and migration processes are also to be observed, in that: where the level of socio-economic development is higher, the inflow of population from cities is also greater, even as rates of outflow of population abroad decrease.
In juxtaposing information on gminas’ directions of socio-economic development and demographic situations, the authors demonstrate how rural areas of economic structure still dominated by agriculture are the ones most affected by loss of inhabitants, while areas with relatively developed multifunctionality or multifunctionality of households are less involved in processes by which the distribution of population in the countryside is changing. A diversified economic structure of villages, and especially a high degree of deagrarianisation to livelihoods in the rural population, is a factor doing much to counteract processes of rural depopulation. In turn, it is readily observable that population concentrates in the central villages of local (gmina) systems – at the expense of small villages located on these systems’ peripheries. As a result, centralised villages gain population, strengthen their position as local centres, and eventually achieve town status in a process that is therefore conducive to a strengthening of the network of small Polish towns enjoying local importance.