Around 38.0 million people in Poland inhabit an area of 312,685 square kilometres. The average density of the population is 122 people per square kilometre. The Silesia region has the highest population density index: 364 people per square kilometre. The Podlasie province and the Warmia-Mazuria province have the lowest density indices (58 and 59 people per square kilometre respectively).
From the post-war period onwards, Poland was characterised by highly dynamic demographic processes, with the number of inhabitants increasing by 14 million between 1946 and 1988. Since 1989 the country has seen a process of limited replacement of generations. In 1999 a decline in the population was recorded for the first time and continued for 9 years. It was mainly caused by a drop in the number of births and a negative balance in international migration for permanent residence. The year 2008 was the first one in 11 years when a positive net growth of population was recorded: the number of inhabitants grew by nearly 20,000 compared to the previous year. The population also increased between 2009 and 2012, which was due to the growing number of births and a diminishing negative balance in permanent international migration (a rapid increase in permanent migration flows was recorded in 2006). The year 2013 was the first one with no population growth. Between 2013 and 2021, the population declined, except in 2017 when a slight growth was recorded. On 30 June 2021, the population reached around 38,162,000.
The demographic changes observed in recent years indicate that it may take Poland many years to overcome a deep demographic depression. The fertility rate remains low. Although the rate improved between 2015 and 2019, rising from 1.29 to 1,419, it dropped again later and was 1.32 in 2021 (which means that 132 children were born per 100 women aged 15-49).
The deep demographic depression of the 1990s and a high level of emigration (mostly young people), especially since 2004, will soon lead to increasing difficulties in the demographic development, on the labour market and in the social security system. According to the long-term population projection for the period up to 2035, the number of Poles will decrease steadily, and the rate of the decline will grow. The process of ageing of the Polish society will accelerate. The proportion of the post-working age population will increase. The so-called demographic burden index (the ratio of the post-working age population to the working age population) will increase from 55 in 2007 to 73 in 2035. The index reached 68 in 2020.
Population by age
Population (in 000’s)
Population by age (in %):
Pre-working age (0-17)
Working age (18-59/64)
Post-working age (60/65 and above)
Source: Central Statistical Office, Concise Statistical Yearbook 2020 (publication in Polish and English),.
Temporary migration estimates show large-scale economic migration of Poles to other EU countries. Following a visible decrease in the number of Poles temporarily staying abroad between 2008 and 2010, the number of Polish immigrants in other countries increased in the subsequent years and has recently begun to decline again. At the end of 2018, around 2,415,000 Polish citizens lived temporarily abroad, which shows a decrease by 40,000 (1.6%) compared to 2018. However, the number of Poles deregistering their permanent residence in Poland when going abroad has been decreasing for a few years now. The year 2016 was the first one in the period considered here when the net permanent migration balance for Poland reached a positive value (1,500 people). In 2021, the net migration balance was also positive and amounted to 3,400 people.
A new development is the mass migration of Ukrainian citizens to Poland due to the outbreak of war on the territory of Ukraine in February 2022. According to estimates based on the Border Guard’s data, there were around 2.9 million of Ukrainian refugees in Poland in April 2022. A significant proportion of the refugees are school-age children who can pursue education in Polish schools. At the end of the school year 2021/2022, 123,000 Ukrainian children and young people took on this opportunity.
- Informacja o rozmiarach i kierunkach czasowej emigracji z Polski w latach 2004-2018 (Information on the scale and directions of temporary migration from Poland between 2004 and 2018) (publication in Polish only), Central Statistical Office (GUS) 2019;
- Population. size and structure and vital statistics in Poland by territorial division in 2020. Data for 31 December 2020 (publication in Polish and English), Central Statistical Office (GUS), 2020.
- School Education Information System (System Informacji Oświatowej)
- Report „Gościnna Polska 2022+” (Hospitable Poland 2022+ (main recommendations available in English), Fundacja WiseEuropa, 2022
The unemployment rate in Poland has dropped significantly over the last 10 years. Reaching 18% in 2005, it was much higher than the EU average (9%). In 2021, the unemployment rate of 3.4% in Poland was lower than the EU (EU-27) average of 7%. The youth unemployment rate (for young people up to 25 years of age) of 9.9% is lower than the EU average by around 5%.
Youth unemployment rate, age group 15 to 24 years
Total unemployment rate for 15 to 74 age group
Official and minority languages
The Polish language is the official language in Poland, as stated in the Constitution of the Republic of Poland (KonstytucjaRzeczypospolitej Polskiej) and the Act of 7 October 1999 on the Polish Language (ustawa o języku polskim z dnia 7 października 1999 r.).
Compared to other European countries, Poland is very homogenous in terms of nationality or ethnicity. It is estimated that no more than 3% of the total population are national minorities. The years since 1989 have seen a rebirth of national and ethnic identity among the minorities. The network of schools teaching in languages of national minorities or offering additional classes in these languages to pupils from national minorities has been steadily expanding – the number of such schools has increased four-fold since 1990.
The Constitution and the Act of 6 January 2005 on the Ethnic and National Minorities and on the Regional Language (ustawa z 6 stycznia 2005 r. o mniejszościach narodowych i etnicznych oraz o języku regionalnym) guarantee the right for minorities to protect, preserve and develop their cultural identity. The latter Act defines the responsibilities and powers of the state administration and local government bodies regarding the exercise of the rights of ethnic and national minorities.
The Act identifies:
- 9 national minorities: Byelorussian, Czech, Lithuanian, German, Armenian, Russian, Slovak, Ukrainian and Jewish;
- 4 ethnic minorities: Karaim, Lemko, Romany and Tatar;
- one community using the regional language of the Kashubians.
The ethnic and national minorities exercise their rights to learning the minority language or education in the minority language and learning the history and culture of the minority in accordance with the principles laid down in the School Education Act of 7 September 1991 (ustawa z 7 września 1991 r. o systemie oświaty).
Pursuant to Article 13 of the School Education Act, a public school enables pupils to preserve their national, ethnic, linguistic and religious identity and, in particular, to learn their history and culture. At parents' request, the teaching may be organised in:
- separate groups, classes and schools;
- groups, classes and schools with additional language, history and culture classes;
- interschool teaching units.
Detailed arrangements for this kind of provision are laid down in the Regulation of the Minister of National Education of 18 August 2017 on the conditions and methods for public nursery schools, schools and educational institutions to perform tasks aimed at preserving the national, ethnic and linguistic identity of pupils from national and ethnic minorities and the community using the regional language (rozporządzenie Ministra Edukacji Narodowej z 18 sierpnia 2017 r. w sprawie warunków i sposobu wykonywania przez przedszkola, szkoły i placówki publiczne zadań umożliwiających podtrzymywanie poczucia tożsamości narodowej, etnicznej i językowej uczniów należących do mniejszości narodowych i etnicznych oraz społeczności posługującej się językiem regionalnym).
In the school year 2020/2021, the following numbers of pupils were learning their mother tongue other than Polish:
- 72,900 pupils in 1,050 primary schools;
- 2,400 pupils in 65 post-primary schools.
In the school year 2020/2021, the German minority was the largest national minority represented in schools. There were in total 597 primary schools in Poland which conducted classes for German minority pupils, which represented 57% of all primary schools teaching national and ethnic minority languages. However, in view of the influx of war refugees from Ukraine, Ukrainian pupils are likely to be the largest national minority in the school year 2021/2022. Based on the School Education Information System data, Polish schools have taken around 120,000 Ukrainian pupils since the beginning of the war in Ukraine (February 2022).
Education in the 2020/2021 school year (publication in Polish and English), Central Statistical Office.
School Education Information System (System Informacji Oświatowej)
The Constitution guarantees the freedom of conscience and the freedom of religion. Churches of all denominations and the State are independent and autonomous. There is no official religion in Poland.
The Roman Catholic Church is the biggest church in Poland. If the number of the baptised is taken as the criterion, around 85% of the population are affiliated to this community (32.5 million of baptised people in 2020). The Catholic Church also includes the Uniate Church (Greek-Catholic) with the congregation of around 55,000 members.
The Orthodox Church and Old Catholic Churches have a congregation of 500,000 members (1.3% of the population). There are about 30 Protestant Churches with a congregation of around 150,000 members (0.4% of the population), the biggest one in this group being the Evangelical-Augsburg Church (61,000 members). There also exist about 20 Churches or other religious congregations, which bring together a total number of several dozen to more than 5,000 followers (the only exception is Jehovah’s witnesses with 115,000 members).
Although the Roman Catholic Church is the largest one, its legal relations with the State were not regulated for a long time (in contrast to other Churches and religions). The agreement (Concordat) between the Holy See and the Republic of Poland was ratified by the Sejm (the lower house of the Parliament) on 8 January 1998 and subsequently signed by the President.
With regard to education, the most important provision of the Concordat is that the State guarantees the teaching of religion (as an optional subject), at parents’ and pupils’ request, in public schools (preschool education institutions, primary and secondary schools).
Detailed rules for the teaching of religion are laid down by the Regulation of the Minister of National Education of 14 April 1992 on the conditions and procedures for the organisation of religion lessons in public schools (rozporządzenie Ministra Edukacji Narodowej z dnia 14 kwietnia 1992 r. w sprawie warunków i sposobu organizowania nauki religii w szkołach publicznych) and the Regulation of the Minister of National Education of 3 April 2019 on the outline timetables (rozporządzenie Ministra Edukacji Narodowej z dnia 3 kwietnia 2019 r. w sprawie ramowych planów nauczania w szkołach publicznych). Pursuant to the provisions which came into force on 1 September 2012, religion and ethics lessons are not automatically compulsory for pupils but become so upon a request submitted by pupils’ parents. The same rule applies to, for example, the teaching of minority languages and the regional language.