At the beginning of the twenty-first century, in the post-industrial period a fertility
decline became a growing social problem in the Euro-Atlantic cultural sphere. In the mid-term horizon, demographers have said this will lead to depopulation in most European countries and all of Europe. Apart from the migration of young people from different cultures, a population decrease can be stopped by the increase of birth rate. This process can take place by increasing the number of families with many children in postindustrial societies.
Researchers who study demographic shifts claim that families with a minimum of 4 children are needed to replace a full generation, but to rejuvenate a population, families of 4+ are necessary. Various studies across different disciplines are being undertaken to better understand the causes of low birth rates; however, since families with one or two children or no children at all constitute the majority of families in European countries, the perspective of such families dominates current research. As a result, the causes of higher reproductive rates in families with multiple children are unknown. This research aims to help fill this knowledge
gap, especially by focusing attention on families with multiple children in countries with low birth rates, which has not been given due consideration in current Polish and international sociological literature.
This conceptualization of the issue results from the author’s own experiences and is
based in theories of new institutionalism developed in Anthropology and Sociology.
A sociological approach to the issue moves away from Bronisław Malinowski’s model
of the procreative institution, which meets the social reproductive needs and includes the following institutions: courting, marriage, family, clan, society. Malinowski viewed the procreative institution as universal, existing in all societies in order to support the goal of reproduction of the group.
Building on this concept of the procreative institution, this research presents
reproduction in the context of the history of the Euro-Atlantic sphere and contemporary post-industrial societies.
This research focuses on a specific segment of Polish society: families with multiple
children in which the mother has a higher education. This focus is in response to the claim that higher education rates characterize both contemporary post-industrial societies and a lower birth rate, which suggests an interrelatedness between different spheres of social life, broadly understood.
Qualitative methods were employed in this research on the conditions that impact on reproductive rates, which enabled attention to complex, interrelated issues that inform family decisions about procreation. In-depth interviews were the main research tool, which was supported by an analysis of the situation of the families with multiple children included in the sample and participant observation in the place of residence of those families. The interviews and observations were carried out in two phases – in 2013 and 2017 – which allows this study to note the impact of family-oriented policies that aim to support demographic growth and that were introduced after the first phase of the study. Overall, 40 interviews were collected
with mothers and fathers in families with multiple children. The informants constitute a diverse sample in terms of income and the age of the mother. The sample includes families in which the mother can still bear children as well as families in which the mothers have passed reproductive age.
The analysis shows that having multiple children was a matter of conscious choice
made by the married couples, above all, in accordance with the mindset/ believes and attitudes they had developed through their own family up-bringing and through the youth groups they were affiliated with as young people themselves. Their believes and attitudes related to families with multiple children, marriage, reproduction, and upbringing influence their willingness to have multiple children.
This study found that the norms and informal rules that constitute social expectations, both in the immediate community and in the broader society, as well as the parents’ exposure to family models, significantly influence the decision to either limit or to continue with reproduction in the case of 3+ children.
Forming families with multiple children depends on both formal and informal norms
and rules that make up the social system and the mental models of the informants, which give them a sense of subjective perceived control. These factors include: the relations in the married couple, the family planning methods that are used, the mothers’ health during pregnancy and birth, the child-care and child-rearing practices, the professional life of the parents, as well as the housing and financial situation of the family. Moreover, moral and religious rules influence families with multiple children.
A diachronic analysis of the families in the sample allowed the definition of five
strategies used by couples who form families with multiple children: a general openness to having children, an analysis of desires and possibilities, a situational openness, planning, an excitement for reproduction. All the families taking part in the study claimed to be happy or very happy.
This study also enabled an indication of directions for future research, for example:
links between families with multiple children and care, the professional engagement of the parents, social norms about family size, contraception and family planning methods.
The study was based in a small sample size, which further underlines the need for
further research. This study can serve to orient future investigations.
This research raised a key question about the conditions that must be secured in
contemporary post-industrial societies, both by future parents and the broader cultural context, in order for future generations to be regenerated. Such studies should be undertaken in the field of sociology and it might be worth considering defining a separate subfield of the sociology of procreation. These studies should focus on the social conditions and factors that influence procreation as a social activity, and in the field of new institutionalism, reproduction as dependent on institutions on different levels of society. Procreation is not just a private
issue of the married couple, but an activity that is socially influenced, as this study has shown.