Through all the difficult times that Poles experienced in their history, they depended on family members and close friends for help and support. These ties remain strong even when people emigrate to other countries.

Both under communism and during the economic slumps that have followed, Poland has suffered from shortages of basic goods. Families have relied on extensive social networks to remain above a subsistence level. The destruction of cities and villages during the war also led to a critical shortage of housing-a problem that still affects Poland. Consequently, many people live in extended families, both in urban and rural areas. Grandparents often help to look after their grandchildren while parents are at work. Sometimes relatives, friends or neighbours help with children, and many working women also use babysitters. Children are taught to respect their elders, and younger generations often care for the elderly at home.

Village life tends to centre around seasonal events related to agriculture, Sunday mass, and important family events such as weddings, funerals and christenings. Weddings are very big events: people spend much time preparing food and drink, and may invite 100 or more guests. Couples rarely live together before marriage, and unmarried children usually live at home with their parents. Although Poles traditionally had large families, many couples, especially in cities, now have only one or two children. Divorce, once uncommon, has been slowly increasing.

Attitudes toward women have been complicated by ideological differences between the Catholic Church and communism. While the Communist Party in theory supported gender equality and freedom over choices such as abortion, the Catholic Church has stressed women's roles of wife and mother. Nevertheless, in general, families now operate in an egalitarian way. Most women have careers outside the home, and many have made inroads into professions: most doctors, teachers and accountants are women. At home women still bear most of the responsibility for shopping and housework, although many husbands do help.

  Did you know?
Hanna Suckocka was elected Poland's first female Prime Minister in 1992. She was the only woman in her entire coalition government.