Przegląd Geograficzny (2022) vol. 94, iss. 3

Directions of population change in the largest Polish cities, 1980‑2020

Robert Szmytkie

Przegląd Geograficzny (2022) vol. 94, iss. 3, pp. 307-325

The main objective of the work detailed here was to identify directions of population change characterising Poland’s largest cities in the years 1980‑2020. The temporal scope of the analysis involves the last decade of the country’s communist era (1980‑1989) and the subsequent period of transition. The cities involved were Warsaw, Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań and Gdańsk.

This paper is analytical and descriptive, with the index method and Webb’s typology deployed. Population change was described in terms of the relative population index and growth rate, while reference was also made to rate of natural increase and migration balance. Webb’s dynamic diagram was used to depict directions of population change, in a modification permitting that change over time to be indicated. Population structure was analysed by identifying “surpluses” in the shares of overall population accounted for by people in particular age groups. This method, approached separately for males and females, makes comparisons – and seeks divergences – with the average shares for population in different age groups noted for Poland as a whole.

It was at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries that situations as regards population in different cities began to diversify markedly, under the influence of changing socio-economic conditions. In this, several population-related sub-periods may be identified. While most cities entered a phase of stagnation following a period of population growth, some also experienced depopulation. While certain cities have experienced marked “improvement” in the situation as regards population more recently, a specific recent issue has been the demographic collapse of 2020, related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As noted already, in the time through to the mid-1980s, Poland’s largest cities were all rather similar in terms of their population trends. Post-1985, however, a period of demographic reconstruction set in, and the trends for the cities began to diversify. The key differences identified relate to the durations of periods of population stagnation, as well as the trends encountered once that stagnation ended. Certain similarities as regards trends for population are noted for such pairs of cities as Warsaw and Kraków, Wrocław and Gdańsk, and Poznań and Łódź.

Figures for both natural increase and migration balance show marked fluctuation in the period under analysis. Natural increase was declining in all of the cities in the 1980s, to a point at which negative values were reached (denoting natural decrease in each city analysed). However, the 2016‑2019 period brought a significant renewed increase in values for natural increase, as reflecting increased birth rate. However, what diversified post-1982 were the trends for migration balance characterising the different cities. Only in Warsaw did the migration balance remain positive through the whole period analysed, though it is also worth noting how all the cities experienced clear increases in values for the migration balance index between 2013 and 2019.

The sub-periods distinguished differ in terms of the factors dominant within population change. In the urbanisation phase, that factor in all of the cities was positive natural increase. The period of reconstruction of the situation as regards population was then characterised by variation in the importance of different factors. Indeed, the current trends for demographic change in each city are linked to one particular factor being dominant. In the cases of cities featuring steady population growth, that factor is a positive migration balance. The situation is more complex in the case of cities currently experiencing depopulation (in Łódź the factor involved is natural decrease, while in Poznań it is a negative migration balance).

The so-called ‘big five’ cities have population “surpluses” vis-à-vis the rest of the country in the same (0‑4, 30‑44 and 65+) age groups. In the case of the population of post-working age, ongoing ageing of the population is indicated, while in the case of the younger age groups the data reflect influxes of migrants into the cities. Against this background, Łódź stands out, with “surpluses” of population shares in the 35‑49 and 60+ age groups among women and the 40‑44 and 65+ age groups for men. These point to Łódź being the Polish city manifesting processes of population ageing to the greatest degree.

Keywords: duże miasta, zmiany ludnościowe, urbanizacja, depopulacja, Polska

Robert Szmytkie [], Uniwersytet Wrocławski, Instytut Geografii i Rozwoju Regionalnego