Language of Parenting: Poland’s Efforts to Promote New Fatherhood Through Outdoor Advertising Campaign
Responding to changes in Poland’s declining fertility rate, a smaller household size, two wage-earning household members, an increased divorce rate, and changes taking place in gender power relations in contemporary society, the government implemented a highly visible and public Polish Dads (Tato Polski) promotional “language” campaign in 2015. The campaign drew attention to the need for more fathers to become actively involved in child-rearing. The campaign called for placing 29 highly visible billboards showing fathers with children in prominent locations in 16 cities. To measure the general impression of the campaign, a questionnaire was designed, and a survey was conducted of 199 young Polish women and men in Cracow. They were asked to identify the billboards they liked most and least and why. The results were fairly uniform among women and men, young and older, and married and single. The long-term impact of this project is unknown, but what is known is that there were some clearly favored advertisements that presented fathers and children in a positive light, an objective in accordance with the government plans promoting a new pattern of fatherhood.
KeywordsEurope’s changing demographics Polish fathers Language of parenting Children and dads Media promotion Social survey Parenthood
The changed role of fathers from the “traditional stereotypical father” to the contemporary “new father” involves intimate engagement with and caring for children. (Richter and Smith 2006, p. 155)
Article 18 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland provides that: Marriage, being a union of a man and a woman, as well as the family, motherhood and parenthood, shall be placed under the protection and care of the Republic of Poland. Let me draw your attention to the fact that this provision may be implying but does not explicitly refer to fatherhood as such. For this reason, I suggest replacing the word ‘parenthood’ with ‘fatherhood.’ (A petition filed by representatives of organizations of fathers to the President of the Republic of Poland on the debate on amending the Polish constitution, 6 April 2018)
I hope that this campaign will go to the greatest number of people. I think it’s worth it. (Survey respondent)
Changes in contemporary societies in much of the Global North are leading to an examination of what were once considered acceptable norms for children’s welfare, parents, and parenting (Leonard 2016; Norozi and Moen 2016). These changes include declines in birth and fertility rates, women and men as full-time members of the labor force, reduced family size compared to previous generations, an aging society, higher divorce rates, and women’s reproductive choices (Pew Research Center 2015). Related to these changing social conditions in urban and rural areas are the challenges facing governments including shrinking labor force, school closings, health and medical policies for the elderly, and the consequences of late marriages, childless households, and the changing roles of both mothers and fathers in parenting (Bourdillon 2014; Holloway 2014). These are not only policy issues but also language issues that relate to parenting, the work force, health care, and gender roles. The changing realities of parenting are not unique to Poland or much of Europe but are emerging as policy issues in Japan and much of North America. However, they are highlighted by social, economic, and cultural changes in Eastern and Central European countries. The differentiation between Western, Eastern, and Central European countries is significant, and the choice of Poland as the largest country of the region and the cradle of democratic and system changes is purposeful. Globalization processes, the European Union, NATO expansion, and accelerated economic growth of the Eastern and Central European countries put these countries on the right track to catch up with Western Europe (Rachwał 2015); however, the “iron curtain” that fell nearly 30 years ago, which for nearly half a century was slowing down the development of the USSR, heavily influenced countries in the region. The “curtain” continues to mark the geopolitical line dividing Europe (Bański 2008). The culture lag between Western Europe and the Eastern and Central European countries remains visible on the map of Europe in both the economic and social aspects.
Governments are seeking ways to address the expected existing and future realities of the changing social dynamics associated not only with declining numbers of births and marriages but also unexpected resulting consequences. Sensing that the social and economic situation merits more than casual government statements about numbers, governments are beginning to discuss and implement programs and policies that they hope will reverse some of current realities. These realities include low birth rate, difficult living conditions of families with more children, or housing difficulties of young couples caused by very high prices of apartments when compared to salaries.
Poland has taken some initial steps to address household and family problems through couples’ programs. The most important one, which generates the highest cost for the state budget, is Program 500+, which gives a monthly benefit of 500 PLN (120 EUR) to each family in Poland for the second and each successive child, irrespective of income, until the age of 18. The purpose of the program is to support families with children and motivate parents to have more than one child. The next important is housing programs such as “an apartment for a young couple,” “a family on its own,” and their continuation, “an apartment+,” offering the opportunity to buy or rent apartments at a lower cost, in particular by young people who start families. In addition, social campaigns have been launched, including “a Polish Dad” (Tato Polski). When contrasted with some large-scale social programs like 500+, this campaign may seem of little significance; however, it is important since it touches upon transformations of behavioral standards and norms that are socially important and influence the demographic structure and a family model in a country more than financial benefits offered so far.
In the past few years, a number of Polish social scientists have begun to address changes in family structures, work-home responsibilities, and children. They have noted that the role of fathers is also changing (Michałowska and Daniłowicz 2011).
Historically and traditionally, fathers have fulfilled numerous roles, including those of “breadwinner” and “protector” of women and children. In this guise, men typically control domestic decisions and discipline their children. In the main, men have tended to be distant and detached from family affairs having to do with children (Richter and Smith 2006, p. 155).
Many of the same changes have been reported by government social services that monitor changes in family composition, parental responsibilities, and the raising of children in Poland (Racław 2013). In relation to family structure, one can observe the process of loosening of family bonds reflected in an increasing number of divorces and the social acceptance of divorce within the last two decades. As a part of the global trend of women’s emancipation, one can observe an increased number of women active in the labor market as well as in public life in Poland. This change is the result of both economic factors (high cost of maintaining a household in Poland) and changing sociocultural patterns (values, attitudes, aspirations). Because of these changes, one can observe alternatives to traditional patriarchal family structures, such as DINKS (Podwójny Dochód Brak Dzieci; Dual Income No Kids), patchwork families, transnational families, and alternative families (cohabitation, gay, lesbian) (Slany 2008). Worthy of mention is the rise of a singles’ culture, especially in large cities in Poland and an increased number of individuals who decide not to maintain any stable relationship. This trend is specific for countries undergoing the processes of modernization. The processes include changes in the value system. Traditional values such as family and religion are overcome by values connected to individualism (career), self-realization, well-being (health), and ecology (Inglehart 2007; Czapiński and Panek 2015).
In terms of work-home responsibilities, there is an economic pressure for partnership within gender roles. Both working parents have to balance between their work and family life. In order to succeed, parents’ home-related duties have to be complementary. The model of partnership leads to the gradual atrophy of the distinction between “male” and “female” duties. This means the more active role of men in home-related duties, traditionally seen as “female” responsibilities, including childcare. The model of the father engaged in the home sphere and taking an active role in child-rearing has been coined “the new fatherhood.”
The trend toward a partnership model of relationship between man and woman goes in line with changing parenthood patterns. The traditional Polish family was seen by social researchers as child-centered (Pustułka 2015), which means huge parental engagement in child upbringing and the resignation of parents’ own aspirations, especially on the side of the mother. This pattern is changing quickly in big cities, and the change is reflected in the family-oriented infrastructure which allows parents to be active in other than parental social roles. The infrastructure includes, for example, cafes and pizzerias where parents may go out with kids and meet with their friends or specially designed fitness programs for mothers with little kids.
All the social changes in the last two decades are multidirectional and lead to many tensions between the “traditional” and “modern” model of the family and parenthood. While the changes in economy and some superficial behavioral patterns occurred quite fast, in-depth elements of cultural structure, such as values or attitudes, are more resistant to change. Stereotypes of the “father as a breadwinner” and the “Polish mother” (matka Polka) being engaged full time sustaining her family underpin the resistance to change which remains a strong feature of Polish society. These stereotypes reflect the traditional division of gender roles: the male related to the public sphere and the female related to private, family sphere. As some authors conclude, women in contemporary Poland are promoters of change, while the men are just beginning to confront themselves with the challenges they face. A positive social perception of a policy aimed at fathers, such as paternity leave, does not mean that the practice goes in line with an accepted society level (Bierca 2014). It is because the dynamics of Polish family life are undergoing the major changes described above compared to 10 or 20 years ago and the resistance to these changes that the government in 2015 implemented a program to call attention to the role of fathers in Polish families. It is within this wider context of dealing with families and family structure that the program known as Polish Dads (Tato Polski) was implemented.
The purposes of this paper are threefold: first, to discuss the background demographic and sociocultural concerns in Polish society, both by the government and the scholarly communities regarding the raising of children in contemporary Poland. Specifically, we explore recent programs and recent literature on this subject. A second main goal is to present the objectives, funding, and logistics of the recent major government initiative, Polish Dads, an outdoor advertising campaign in which large billboards promote greater fatherhood involvement in raising children. Third, we observe and analyze the survey results of Poles’ general impressions of the program by interviewing youth and young parents about the images in the Polish Dads outdoor advertising campaign. We see these components of social change, public policy language, and visualization as intersecting spheres of influence in addressing contemporary issues in Polish and other contemporary societies.
We first discuss the background of this program within a broader context of Polish social policy, especially policies related to family planning, parental care, and the broader social welfare of Polish children. Following this discussion, we present the conceptual framework where we consider the program at the juxtaposition of social and cultural issues, public or government policy language, and the growing importance of visualization to address this pressing social problem through an effort to contest the traditional narrative of the Polish family. The next section lays out the framework for a survey of the outdoor advertising messages and analyzes the results in regard to how respondents evaluated the images of fathers and children. We conclude by summarizing our findings and suggesting additional research that might be conducted in other European and non-European societies where fatherhood and children issues are also paramount in broad public discourse.
Poland’s Changing Demography
Since 1955 the number of births declined, and this trend continued into the 1960s and 1970s and led to a major demographic decrease that occurred when the “lost generation” (those born during World War II) entered the reproductive age. The lowest number of births during this period was recorded in 1967 when 521,800 infants were born. In the following years, the number of births increased slightly as babies born during World War II reached adulthood and had children. It should be noted, however, that changes in the state’s population policy also had some influence on the demographic change. Polish demographers Dzienio and Latuch (1983) divided the population policy in socialist Poland into three periods: 1945–1955, 1955–1970, and after 1971. From 1945 to 1955, the state implemented a very strong pro-family policy that aimed to compensate for the war losses. Populating the western part of the country, in the so-called recovered lands, was also a high priority. By the second half of the 1950s, the state was gradually withdrawing family support. A family model with fewer children was promoted, which was to guarantee increased living standards. In 1956 a law was introduced for the termination of pregnancy (Dzienio and Latuch 1983). Since 1971, with changes in the government, the population policy has changed yet again. To encourage young Poles to establish large families, a fully paid maternity leave was extended to 16 months after the birth of the first child and to 18 months for subsequent children. A further unpaid maternity leave period was extended from 1 to 3 years. In the following years, other efforts were introduced to encourage Poles to have children. Thus, there were not only more women of reproductive age but also a separate male policy that contributed to more births in the 1970s and 1980s. The highest number of births (720,000) in the second postwar baby boom was recorded in 1983, and the birth rate was 19.5/1000 (Demographic Yearbook of Poland 2018). Creation of a “Solidarity” social movement also had a positive impact on demographic trends by providing hope for improvement of the social conditions in the country. However, since 1983, the birth rate has declined – a trend which was expected to be completed in the mid-1990s. As a result, fewer women entering the reproductive age (i.e., born in the 1970s), from 1983 to 2003, had fewer births. The year 1989, which was a watershed year for the Poles because of the agreement between the communist authorities and “Solidarity,” was known as The Polish Round Table Agreement. That year marked the beginning of a political transformation; it was also the 1st year since World War II that the fertility rate dropped below 2.1. This rate is recognized in developed countries as the level below which there is no replacement of generations. The decrease in births lasted until 2003 when only 351,000 children were born. It was also the year of the lowest fertility rate in postwar Poland, 1.22/1000 (Demographic Yearbook of Poland 2018). The years 2003–2009 brought a slight increase in the number of births, which to a large extent was considered the realization of “deferred” births (Stańczyk et al. 2015). Since 2010 the number of births has continued to decline, with 369,000 in 2015. The country’s fertility rate is among the lowest in the world; it ranked 216th out of 224 countries (The World Factbook 2016).
The 16 target cities had clear differences in fertility rates (see Fig. 2). The highest fertility rates in 2016 were in Gdańsk and Warsaw, with 1.51 and 1.42, respectively. Olsztyn and Kielce were the cities characterized by the lowest fertility rate at 1.16 and 1.17, respectively. According to the population projection prepared for Poland for 2014–2050 and on the basis of analysis of demographic trends and the socioeconomic situation in Poland offered by the Central Statistical Office of Poland, the most likely scenario was a variant of an average fertility rate increase. This variant assumed the fertility rate would slightly decrease – a trend that would last until 2017 (Waligórska et al. 2014). In subsequent years, the fertility rate of women was expected to increase to 1.4 in 2025 and 1.5 in 2040. This variant also assumes a reduction in the fertility rate differentials between urban and rural areas.
Polish Families in Transition
Demographics is only one of the important aspects that determine the condition of Polish families. According to Statistics Poland, the institution of marriage has been undergoing major changes in the last two decades. The relative number of new marriages is going down (from 10.8 per 1000 inhabitants in 1950 to 5 in 2017), while the number of divorces is going up in relative terms (from 0.4 per 1000 in 1950 to 1.7 in 2017) (Statistics Poland 2018a).
The migration situation of Poland has been changing since 1960. By 2015, the migration balance in the country was always sharply declining; only in the past 2 years, more people have arrived than left (the migration balance for 2016 and 2017 reached 1500 and 1400 people, respectively). In the twenty-first century, the peak years of migration were between 2006 and 2008. According to the census, in 2011, 2 million Poles lived outside Poland, which caused a disintegration of some Polish families, rearing children in single-parent families or grandparents replacing parents in their parenting roles. Also note that women prevailed among migrants aged 20–29 (Slany and Ślusarczyk 2013). The situation of women and men on the labor market is also affecting families in Poland. After 2000, the professional activity ratio for men was going up from 61% to 66%. Its level was markedly lower for women (approximately 48%), changing slightly year by year without presenting a clear trend (Statistics Poland 2018b). This issue as well as other important issues is the subject of deeper-probing analyses by social science experts. Social and policy scientists, including sociologists, social workers, child psychologists, policy analysts, and others, studying Polish society recognized that there were serious and important issues that related not only to families but also to parents and especially fathers. These issues seem to be part of a wider European, global field of interest (Wojnicka and Kluczyńska 2015). We cite a few examples of recent research by Polish scholars from different professions who are calling attention to the emerging and pressing issues facing Polish families and societies.
Two sociologists, Michałowska and Daniłowicz (2011), in a study entitled “Fatherhood – a crisis or a new dimension” (Ojcostwo – kryzys czy nowy wymiar), explored a number of related issues including the growing role of women in the labor market, the small number of children, more fathers contributing to raising children, the absence of fathers (sometimes attributed to emigration), fatherless households, single-parent households, cohabitation households, and the increased number of divorces and children born outside of marriage.
A new phenomenon, observed especially after 1 May 2004, the date Poland joined the European Union, marked the emergence of a new model of family – coined the transnational family (Slany et al. 2011; Urbańska 2009; Pustułka 2015). It is estimated that since Poland’s accession to the European Union, about 2.1 million citizens have left the country looking for better opportunities in Western European countries (GUS 2016). This posed a severe challenge for the stability of the family. In the traditional pattern of migration from Poland, the man emigrated alone leaving his family for an indefinite period of time. After getting a job and achieving economic stability, his wife and children would join him to live together abroad. However, the last huge wave of emigration from Poland is in many aspects different than the previous ones (Grabowska-Lusińska and Okólski 2009). One can observe the feminization of emigration, which means that the mother leaves the family and the father stays with the children. In some cases, we can observe both parents leaving the country and children are left with grandparents. The issue of “left-over” children attracts public opinion after media dramatic narratives which lead to moral panic (Walczak 2016) and the emergence of a new social category called “Euro-orphans,” that is, kids whose parent(s) went abroad. Researchers point to some psychological consequences for children whose parents live abroad (Walczak 2016). On the other hand, one sociologist points to the emergence of transnational ties between members of the family (Urbańska 2009). Within a transnational family, all the parental functions are maintained by both mother and father staying abroad despite the geographical distance. It is possible due to IT technology, such as Skype, which allows children and parents to maintain everyday contact (Pustułka 2014). Cheap flights as well allow members of family to meet quite often. However, most of the day-to-day communication is mediated through technology, so in this sense family members are no more part of the “community of time and space” (Schütz and Jabłońska 2008).
Racław (2013), a researcher interested in social policy, examined the transformation taking place within Polish society toward fathers, husbands, and families. She noted that the increased divorce rate, men marrying later in life, and households with fewer children are changing the social relationships among husbands and wives with a result of tensions and conflicting expectations, specifically the thinking of Polish society toward fathers.
An educator with a long practical experience, Więcławska (2009), in a similar vein explores the notion of fathers and fatherhood in a broader Polish context. She recognizes that Polish society must accept some of the aforementioned realities if it is to come to grips with the problems of fatherhood and parenting. These include the fact that there are some households without children, that there are households where children are brought up without a father in the household, and that the end of patriarchy in Polish society signals the emergence of a “new parenthood epoch” (epoka nowego ojcostwa) and “new paradigm of masculinity” (nowy paradygmat męskości). The new paradigm defining families and households is based on gender equality and a new self-fulfillment. Recognizing these realities is crucial for reviving the concept of fatherhood and a relationship of shared and equal respect for women and men in a relationship.
The changing paradigm of masculinity and femininity has been discussed for about a half century in the field of cultural studies (especially in the UK). This interdisciplinary field of research in its core seeks to explore the relationship between culture and power. In its dominant discursive approach, masculinity and femininity and fatherhood and motherhood are social constructs which are objects of discursive power relations. Therefore, this category is subject to change in various historical and social contexts. The cultural researcher focuses on representation of manhood in media and the effect on men’s everyday life. In late 1990s Steve Biddulph (1994) pointed out a central problem of men in contemporary society: loneliness, compulsive competition, and lifelong emotional timidity. This – according to the author – results from adoption of impossible images of masculinity (idealized ones) that men try, but fail to live up to.
The changing discourse of manhood and fatherhood in Poland has been a subject of interest of many researchers who analyzed the phenomena of fatherhood in various periods of Polish history, for example, during the Polish People’s Republic (1945–1989) (Ładyżyński 2015). Among these authors, Śpica (2014) provided historical context for the changing father authority in Poland within the last century. In the conclusion of the study, he argues that while in the first half of the twentieth century the role of man in family was clearly defined, in the second half of the twentieth century, the father’s authority was increasingly contested. He points out as well the distinction between urban and rural areas. Whereas fathers living in big cities adapt to the new paradigm in which they are no longer in the hegemonic position within family, but rather partners dealing with the home sphere and childcare in the same way as mothers, the fathers living in rural areas find this new pattern much more challenging.
Contemporary research based on critical discourse analysis shows how definitions of parental roles adopted in family policy influence men’s engagement in caring activities and the domestic sphere. Researchers argue that these definitions can help in the reconstruction of hegemonic masculinity and traditional gender order within family life in the context of contemporary Polish society (Suwada and Plantin 2014).
Arcimowicz (2008) explores the changes in Polish families and societies through Polish television, where mothers are often seen as bringing up the children and fathers are rarely seen. Shifts in this emphasis emerged in 2000 when more fathers were being integral parts of households.
Note that the changes Polish society is undergoing in the new paradigm and the new definition of fatherhood are described both in negative terms as the “crisis of masculinity” and positive as a “new fatherhood.” The first characterization relates to tensions and conflicts that some Polish men experience facing the fact that the old pattern (hegemonic position, public sphere) is contested, whereas they are not yet ready for the new one. The second refers to the optimistic vision of non-conflict, smooth adaptation to the new pattern which, in fact, can be experienced by some men living in urban areas. As stated in the introduction, the declarative positive attitudes toward “new father” engaged in home-related duties and children upbringing still do not go in hand with everyday practice.
It has been the impact of these and other recent scholarly inquiries into recent Polish family structure, marriages, and fathers that triggered the need to take some positive steps to correct some of the existing realities in Polish contemporary society – realities and conditions that are considered undesirable and unhealthy for family life.
Language and the Polish Dads Program
“Language” is understood here as the discursive practice. In other words, language means a way of talking about fatherhood. We claim that real social change is rooted in language. Therefore, in the face of diagnosed barriers in “new fatherhood” patterns to be implemented at the level of lived practice, one ought to reconstruct “new fatherhood” in a dominant discourse in the society.
The changes described above were first brought to the attention of the Polish government in a series of conferences and studies carried out in 2013 (Tato Polski). These events received media coverage under the “Year of a Family” governmental program celebration. The main conference, the Forum for Family (Forum dla Rodziny), was organized and sponsored by the Prime Minister and Polish government; it took place in Warsaw on 23 October 2013. Over 300 participants (representatives of nongovernmental organizations, experts, local government officials, and government representatives) participated in six different thematic panels discussing the major problems and challenges facing Polish families. These were (1) place to live, (2) family and work, (3) kindergarten and school, (4) safe family, (5) Polish Dad, (6) and multigenerational and large family. The Polish Dad panel focused on the father’s role in the new social, economic, and cultural reality (“Forum” 2013).
These events led to development of a program called Dad Closer to the Child (Tata bliżej dziecka), popularly known as Polish Dad (Tato Polski), which sought to make changes in parental care and, especially, to reduce or eliminate existing stereotypes about fathers and fatherhood. A stereotypical image of a father, which the linguistic literature describes as “a patriarchal model of male parenthood,” is an image of a father as the head and the breadwinner of a family, preoccupied with his work, who does not have much time for the kids who are being brought up by their mother. Such a father does love his children but is reserved about showing them his feelings, and his involvement in their upbringing is mainly limited to a strict evaluation of child-rearing outcomes and administration of penalties (Suska 2016). Such an image contradicts a contemporary model of a family with women as equally educated and professionally active as men. It was hoped that the campaign would encourage more fathers to take an active role in parenting and in the raising of children. Spending more time with them was considered a crucial element of this initiative. Recent research confirmed that the Polish fathers spend much less time with their children than mothers, mainly because of long working hours. Such are conclusions that largely come from analyzing the roles of fathers, child-rearing, and spending time with them in a diagnostic survey of 502 Polish fathers by Włodarczyk (2014) from the Empowering Children Foundation (Fundacja Dajemy Dzieciom Siłę).
The official government office responsible for this program is the Office of Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment (Pełnomocnik Rządu do spraw Równego Traktowania). A desired outcome was that involving fathers more in the raising of children would strengthen their intergenerational ties and also provide a greater satisfaction for all family members, especially with both parents spending more time with their offspring (“Forum” 2013).
The project was financed by the governments of Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein through a European Economic Area Grants program and a Norway Grants program for 2009–2014. The European Economic Area Grants are designed to reduce economic and social disparities in 16 EU countries in Central and Southern Europe and the Baltics, with funding channeled through 150 programs in the beneficiary countries. Country allocations were based on population size and gross domestic product per capita, making Poland the largest beneficiary state. Grants are available from nongovernmental organizations, research and academic institutions, and public and private sector bodies (www.eeagrants.org).
The major objectives of the Polish project were met through an outdoor advertising campaign. In addition, 2000 calendars were printed in 2016 and given away that called attention to the project. The advertising campaign lasted 28 days from 2 June to 31 August 2015 in the capital cities of the voivodship (Fig. 2): Białystok, Bydgoszcz, Gdańsk, Katowice, Kielce, Kraków, Łodź, Lublin, Olsztyn, Opole, Poznań, Rzeszów, Szczecin Warszawa, Wrocław, and Zielona Góra. The organizers prepared 29 billboards; each city had one or two of them placed in prominent locations, e.g., near major intersections, at bus and train stations. In three cities, Zielona Góra, Rzeszów, and Białystok, the billboards were the same. In each city there were about 30 displayed in prominent pedestrian and vehicular traffic. It was the Office of Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment that set the aforementioned goals according to content that it considered appropriate and acceptable for Polish society.
As a conceptual framework, we apply Jeffrey Alexander’s strong program used in cultural sociology. According to Alexander (2010), the research should focus on a social text (in our case, fatherhood). The social text is framed by the narrative, code, and genre, as this is a specific “glue” of social tissue. The text has a determining role in the motivation and activities of people and is made apparent first of all in a civic sphere. This sphere is intersecting with other spheres such as politics/policies, media, and many others (economy, art). The sphere ought to be understood as part of the functional and institutional space of social life. The media sphere quite often plays a role of a trigger bringing to public attention the specific issue/problem due to the narrative that appears in civic sphere. In our case, we consider the conceptual framework of the Polish Dads campaign as a domain of government policy (policy sphere) to change the attitudes toward a “new fatherhood.” The visual appearance of the campaign (images and narratives in the form of billboards) belongs to the media sphere.
We conducted both qualitative and quantitative research. In the first part of this study, we performed a content analysis of 15 of the 29 billboards used in the campaign. In the second part, we conducted the survey of campaign perception among 199 respondents. Our overall objective was to obtain reactions to the Polish Dads program through a survey administered to Polish youth and adults.
Pilot Study: University Students Select Half of the Billboards to Be Further Analyzed
In March 2016, we asked a group of 26 undergraduate students (14 women and 12 men between 20 and 30 years old) at Kraków Pedagogical University to choose 10 of the 29 billboards, 5 they like most and 5 they like least, leaving 19 unchosen. The choice of students from the university was intentional as it was assumed that, as students of the most recognized pedagogical university in Poland, they would demonstrate higher sensitivity to family relations reflected in the billboards. Participants of the study were randomly selected from a class that was in session.
Visual Content Analysis of the 15 Billboards Selected by Undergraduate Students
Visual content of images used in the questionnaire (Author’s own work)
No of children
Sex of children G-girl, B-boy
Age of children
Activities of the father
Physical relationship (father-children)
Eye contact father-children
Social role of the father
On a walk
Father holds the child on his hands
A close relationship, hugging a child
Father as an educator and parent
Person responsible, reason, peace, support, security
In the training room
Father holds the child on his hands
A close relationship, hugging a child
Father as a role model
Person full of passion, cheerful, confident
Playing in a built “house”
Father plays with the child
No physical contact
Focused on playing together
Teacher and pupil
Open person with passion
B, B, B
1, 7, 9
On a walk
Father carries the youngest son in the pram and looks at the older sons who are riding in front of him
No physical contact
Father looks at the children, but they do not look at him
Smiling father involved, family member
Person responsible, cheerful, open, fulfilled
On the meadow
Father and child sitting together on the grass and watching flowers
Close physical contact
Father looks at the children, but son does not look at him
Focus, care, smile
Father as educator
On a walk
Playing with the dog on a walk – the father is playing with the dog; the boy is looking at them
No physical contact
Boy looks at the father, but does not look at him
Father as a role model
Person full of passion, focused on them
Father helps daughter with homework
Close physical contact
Father as a friend and guardian
Person wise, supportive, helpful, trustworthy
In a photo studio
The father accompanies his sons in taking pictures at a joint session
A close relationship, but no direct physical contact
Father looks at children, but sons do not look at him
Father as educator
Person cheerful, open, full of passion
Father reads a book to a daughter, playing with his son
Close physical contact
Parent, teacher, educator
Person responsible, wise, trustworthy
G, G, G
Infant, 3, 5
Playing actively with children, reading a book
Close relationship to one girl, two others in a hand-distance
Teacher and pupil (kids as teachers)
Person close to kids, playful, focused on kids, cheerful, full of energy, supportive
On the playground
Father supports his daughter on ladders, they both laugh
Close physical contact
Person cheerful, open, friendly, funny
On a motorbike
Father and daughter are riding on a motorbike; father is driving
Close physical contact
Father as a role model
Person full of passion, support, open
In the stable with the horse
Father and daughter pose together for a picture with a horse
No physical contact
Father is smiling, daughter is not
Person who wants to participate in the life of an adolescent daughter, supporting
G, G, G
4, 13, 17
Father and daughters on a bicycle ride
Father rides a motorbike
No physical contact
Person open, helpful, supportive
At the instrument lesson
Father and daughter both play their instruments
No physical contact
Father looks at the child, but girl does not look at him
Focus, delicate smile
Person open, supporting, respecting individuality of the child
The key element of the research procedure was to run an opinion poll in a larger group of respondents using a questionnaire. The questionnaire was designed with the assistance of professionals who work with Polish children and families to elicit responses from women and men, mothers and fathers, single individuals, and those in different age categories.
The images of 15 billboards were shown to 199 adults living in Cracow: 125 women and 74 men. The surveyed group included participants from 18 to 42 years old. This age range was selected because we were interested in pro-family respondents, that is, those who were or were planning to be parents. Responses were collected via social media by distributing a link to the electronic version of the questionnaire. Responses were also collected in person by asking participants in locations popular with potential parents (i.e., “young” housing compounds, parks, and shopping centers) to fill out a traditional, paper questionnaire. The two collection methods were employed to assure the highest possible variety and a random selection of respondents. The survey included 76 participants who were already parents, 38 women and 38 men. The others were childless. An equal number of female and male respondents who were parents were sought in order to obtain responses representative of parents (without outnumbering either). The significant number of childless respondents (n = 123) was, in turn, dictated by our wish to learn about the perception of those who could be potentially encouraged to have children and model their vision of fatherhood on the basis of the campaign.
The instructions given to participants included asking each to choose 10 pictures from the 15 that they saw on the screen. They were to choose the five they liked the most, assess each photo on a scale from 4 to 6 points (the more points, the better they liked it), and choose the five they liked the least (ranked on a scale from 1 to 3). The lower points were for images they did not find appealing. Background information was asked of each respondent: age, gender, if they were a mother or father, and how many children they had. We also wanted to know what features the respondents liked most about the photos they rated highest and what they liked least about those they rated the lowest. Specific comments were requested. At the end of the survey, we asked the participants to provide any additional comments about the survey and the Polish Dads program itself.
Results and Discussion
The survey results of most and least liked photographs reveal salient differences between opinions of women and men and those of different ages, fertility (those with children, mothers, fathers, and parents), and the number of siblings. The three photographs most liked were Photo 10 (5.10 on a scale 1–6), Photo 11 (4.86), and Photo 1 (4.67) (see Fig. 5). The most disliked photographs were Photo 6 (3.37), Photo 8 (3.46), and Photo 13 (3.78). Two were in an in-between category: Photo 9 (4.42) and Photo 2 (4.36).
The most liked billboards had a number of common features: fathers are seen as taking care of very small children and also playing with them. There are no teenagers in any of these most liked photos. A father is even shown with a newborn infant, not a typical ad about parents and children. The photographs are considered to be “normal” situations for parents and children; this fact was noted by a number of the respondents, especially fathers playing with young children. The overall impression of the photos is that those depicted are having fun and enjoying themselves; this generalization applies just as much to the children as to the fathers. The quotes seem very à propos to the given situation depicted in the photo. Finally, all photos are close-up, so those viewing them can observe the exact facial expressions of those photographed which elucidates positive emotions.
While most liked Photo 9 more than Photo 2, parents and single men both preferred Photo 2. Photo 2 is assessed poorly by fathers and respondents 30 years old and older. It is noted that Photo 2 is a photo of a black man in a Superman’s outfit with a small black boy. A billboard with this image is considered controversial in Poland, which is a very homogeneous white society. The billboard in effect is reaching men that still do not have a wife or children; it was not well liked by experienced fathers.
When we look at the positive and negative comments about these “negative” images, several underlying points are worth noting. The fathers are involved with older children, rather than babies. The photos present fathers and children in somewhat “artificial” situations, like they are posing for the photograph. Some photos include more than two characters, which makes it hard to observe a father-child relationship. Emotional ties between fathers and children seem to be strained, a frequent comment by respondents. Some photos are seen as “darker” and difficult to give high value. Some of the captions are not considered very original, nor are they especially well liked.
Summary of Findings
Since governments are responsible for developing and implementing social policies that consider human welfare in a broad context, when new initiatives are implemented, it is useful to obtain some “reading” or analysis of their effectiveness, especially if there is a strong visual content with limited wording. Changes in health benefits for children and adults, the role of women in the work force, the content of the public-school curriculum, and the workplace environment are among the programs that are affected by public staffing, funding, promotion, reporting, and accountability. Poland is one of the countries in Eastern and Central Europe that has been affected by demographic changes including declining fertility and birth rates, increasing number of women in the workplace, and the need for increased health-care coverage for a growing elderly population. Changes, both subtle and highly visible, are occurring in the adult population. These include couples marrying later, having few or no children, absentee fathers, and shifting roles of women and men in Polish society. The government recognized these stark realities as it sought for and received a European Economic Area grant that focused on promoting a visible language advertising campaign to increase the role of fathers in the raising of children. The 2015 program was based on 29 outdoor advertisements placed at prominent locations in 16 major cities. The photos were taken in a variety of settings, each displaying a father with child(ren). We conducted a survey of 199 Polish young women and men, single and married, who were asked to identify the billboards and captions they liked the most and least and why. The images given the highest rating portrayed positive images of fathers with children, and those given the lowest ratings showed fathers in some less caring life situations.
Regarding future research, it will be interesting to know if this highly visible program was successful in increasing the role as fathers in Polish households with their offspring within the next few years or if it merits repeating in another year or two and placing similar advertisements about fathers and children on Polish public television and in newspapers and magazines. Since the problems associated with Polish fathers are not restricted only to Poland, it would be worth exploring if other countries in East and West Europe with declining birth and fertility rates might design similar programs. And what might be the impacts on their youth, young parents, and any differences between women and men in rural and urban areas? Additional research is needed on participants of different social strata – of street children versus those living in gated communities, for example. Also, the role of religion in parenting, the educational levels and play, parenting (and grandparenting), and learning places and spaces need to be investigated (Valentine 2003; Jupp and Gallagher 2012; Wainwright and Mundaret 2011). These and other topics about children and parents and outdoor government “language” campaigns on billboards at major street intersections, in bus and tram stations, and on public television are additional topics on children and societies that merit additional research (Harden et al. 2013). The language of parenting extends to the changing role of mothers and also research on the children of single and dual adult households and those with mixed religious and ethnic backgrounds. Further extensions of language/policy arenas might look at the successes (and failures) of governments’ visual promotional programs for other public welfare programs including enrolling more elderly in health-care initiatives, empowering women in the professional work force, promoting low- and high-tech instruction for people of all ages, advancing the acceptance of national minorities in a more just society, and integrating refugee and immigrant populations as welcome newcomers in a wider society and culture.
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