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From Fields to Cities

Rural-to-urban migration in Poland

In Poland, the contrast between the thriving urban center of Warsaw and the consistently depopulating rural areas highlights a significant and concerning trend. We took a closer look at what draws people to live and work in the city of Warsaw.

Statistics and Background

According to data from Statistics Poland (Główny Urząd Statystyczny, GUS), there has been a consistent trend of approximately 200,000 people per year relocating from rural to urban areas​.

This means that over the last ten years, around 2 million people have moved from rural regions to cities. Warsaw, being the largest and capital city, has been a significant recipient of these internal migrants. This migration trend is primarily driven by the pursuit of better employment opportunities, education, and an overall higher quality of life available in urban areas compared to rural regions.

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) have found that Poland has a dispersed pattern of settlement and a degree of urbanization below the European average. Therefore, 27% of the population lives in cities, 33% live in towns and semi-dense (suburban) areas and the majority of 40% live in rural areas.

They have also found that the Polish tend to migrate to suburban areas rather than core cities. Between 1990 and 2015, larger cities have lost almost 9% of their population, while suburbs grew by 5%. Compared to the OECD average, Poland has a steadily growing suburbanisation and a higher rate of people living in commuting areas than other European countries do. This is because of a lack of affordable housing in core cities and large amounts of farmland made available for housing in the semi-dense areas.

People's opinions: Why Warsaw?

To get a general overview, we asked the Polish why they came to Warsaw specifically.


Zdzisław Kurowski's story

As the capital of one of the most war-torn countries in the world, Warsaw has experienced a long and eventful 20th century. This year marks 80 years since the nazi Wehrmacht annihilated Warsaw on orders directly from the Führer. This was a punishment for the Warsaw rising. A last-ditch attempt to throw out the Germans themselves before the Soviet Union would cross the river Wisła and eventually stay in Warsaw for more than four decades after.

The lively park Ogród Saski contained two major palaces before world war II. While knowing they would lose the war on the eastern front, the Germans deliberately destroyed both in 1944 three years before Zdzisław Kurowski was born. Today, the professor emeritus sits on a bench next to what was the site of aristocratic architecture.

Intellectual Zdzisław Kurowski grew up in a destroyed European capital in a country that had not been given full sovereignty. He describes his own life as a long panorama of how Warsaw has been changing, still to the better. Today, he enjoys the historical monuments and nature of the park full of flowers. In his childhood, the historical city was merely more than a desert of rocks. Zdzisław Kurowski only found the green colour in the plants growing out from the ruins.

As a child, Zdzisław loved reading and biology. He did not come from a communist family, nor was he religious as the vast majority of Polish people. Just baptised. However, his fate was the science which he began to study in his very youth. He learned Russian, too. He regrets that. Albeit he is fond of Russian literature and Alexander Pushkin is his favourite poet, he is not a Russophile. He will never find himself in Russia.

The professor has however been used to see the Russians in his city. As occupiers. Poland was “given” to the Soviet Union after world war two. A historical deed that Zdzisław Kurowski laments.

Architecturally, the old city blossomed after the war. Every war-torn town and city in Europe went through a process of concretisation. Nevertheless, the Varsovians were so keen on rebuilding their capital as it looked before the war. They succeeded in transforming the ashes into baroque and rococo grandeur.

You can claim that Zdzisław Kurowski symbolises the rebuilding of the demolished city. His first name means to make or even build glory, sława being the commonly used word for honour in Slavic languages.

There are three things, the Varsovian appreciates more in today’s Warsaw. The historical buildings and monuments, the green areas, and the cultural fortresses of the theatre and the philharmonic. All rebuilt after the war.

Zdzisław Kurowski managed to get to university through diligence. Through reading and studying. This was not a privilege for the common Pole. He later became a professor of computer mechanics at the Warsaw Military University of Technology.

His private life is a testimony of the uneasy times his city has gone through. There is no doubt about which period of his life that was the harshest. The martial law running from December 1981 and more than one and a half year.

The elderly man describes the period as a time of constant anxiety. His probably strongest memory is from the day when his daughter began at school. A school where the curriculum for more than 40 years had not been written by Poles. Zdzisław Kurowski has experienced the challenges of censorship and control exercised by the régime throughout his own life as a student and as a professor at a state-ruled university – just like everything else was those years.

The daughter’s very first day at school was somewhat of a reversed experience. His daughter cried. And Zdzisław and his wife were crying, too. Not because of the political situation or the bad condition the communist party had left their nation in. His daughter’s tears were way more simple. There was tear gas in the air. The day before, protesters in all of Poland went to the streets to commemorate the success of the Solidarność, the trade union that came to end the communist régime the 4th of June 1989.

If not for the tear gas, the Polish populace may have cried dry tears that first day of September. Władysław Gomułka, the longest reigning first secretary of the communist party, died that day. Gomułka came from a rural town in southern Poland. He was a plumber. Zdzisław Kurowski is an intellectual from one of Europe’s biggest capitals. And he is very critical towards the leaders Poland had because he lived in the madness when the ruling elite could even be illiterate as he puts it.

The city has changed a lot since the end of the cold war to become that hyper modern city it is today. However, Zdzisław Kurowski prefers to find himself in green surroundings and far from the traffic. Although it bothers him less now than in his youth, he can still sense the terrible smell of pollution from cars driving by. That is what draws him to the park.

He has lived his entire life in the city of Warsaw, and when asked about the best day of the entire 77 year long period, he is quick and clear. June 4th 1989. That date, the first free elections after world war two took place. The communist party got a resounding defeat. Zdzisław Kurowski speaks very affectionately about that day.

Until that point of history, the shelves of the shops were empty and the outcome of any election was given. Elections did not mean anything to him. They were irrelevant.

Zdzisław Kurowski will remain in Warsaw for the rest of his life. He had a dream of living in a small house in a forest, close to the nature that has shaped his life more than it has shaped his city. Now, he is too old. He will stick to the park. To Ogród Saski. The palaces that once stood are soon to be rebuilt. Just like the rest of Warsaw has risen like a phoenix or any of the songbirds Zdzisław Kurowski listens to this bright day.

Reasons for Internal Migration

Konrad Stępnik, assistant professor at the Institute of Sociology of the Jagiellonian Universitya and rural sociologist, highlights the main factors for Polish urbanization and the economic as well as social problems that come along with them.


According to the sociologist, education plays a critical role in the migration of people from rural areas to cities in Poland. Local communities highly value their schools and often invest in improving them by hiring better teachers and renovating facilities. However, the paradox is that providing high-quality education in rural areas motivates young people to seek further opportunities in cities. This trend is especially pronounced among women, who are generally better educated than men in Poland. Thus, while rural areas strive to offer good education, it inadvertently fuels the migration of their educated youth to urban centers.

So there is a paradox. If you provide good education at the rural areas, you motivate people to move to the cities.

Job Opportunities

The availability of job opportunities is a significant factor driving migration from rural areas to cities in Poland, says Stępnik. Urban areas offer a wider range of employment options, often perceived as more appealing and less physically demanding than agricultural work. The post-COVID-19 shift towards remote work presents a potential solution, allowing individuals to live in rural areas while working for companies based in cities. Despite this, the variety of diverse job opportunities in urban centers continues to draw young people away from rural communities, as shown in the statistics above.

Historical Context and Demographic Trends

Stępnik mentions that migration from the countryside to cities in Poland is not a recent phenomenon but has been ongoing for decades, significantly intensifying since World War II. Historically, larger rural families helped maintain population levels despite urban migration. Today, with smaller family sizes and fewer children, the rural population is declining more rapidly. This demographic trend exacerbates the migration issue, as there are fewer young people to sustain rural communities.

Migration itself isn't new. This phenomenon that is connected with immigration is new. It is connected with lifestyle, because now young people are not so interested in family life anymore.

Social Dynamics

The migration of young people to cities creates several social and economic challenges for rural communities in Poland. According to Stępnik, labour shortages on farms lead to rising food prices, as it becomes difficult to find workers. Additionally, many elderly residents are left behind without adequate care, previously provided by family members. The financial strain on local municipalities increases as the tax base diminishes with the migrating population, making it harder to maintain essential services. These factors collectively contribute to the decline of rural areas.

Impact on Traditions and Heritage

Lastly the sociologist says that rural traditions in Poland, closely tied to agriculture, are impacted by the decline in farming. As agricultural practices wane, the cultural rituals and customs associated with them also diminish. However, the dedication of Poles to preserving their heritage remains strong. Traditions evolve and adapt to current realities, with efforts from local organizations and state support helping to maintain cultural practices. Despite changes, the commitment to heritage ensures that traditions continue, albeit in a transformed manner.

City or village?

What do Polish residents prefer?


Sounds of Warsaw

Warsaw offers both - a quiet and relaxing environment in parks & the vibrant and turbulent noise in the streets.


People's opinions: What do you like and dislike in Warsaw?

Warsaw offers countless opportunites regarding jobs, education, culture, relaxation and an overall convenient lifestyle through effective public transportation.


With more than 1.8 million residents and loads of people commuting to the capital for work or as tourists, Warsaw can become too noisy and overwhelming.


What does big city life look like?