WARSAW -- When they married six years ago, Pawel and Malgosia Kadziela thought that steady work in state jobs would slowly but surely bring them the rewards that most young couples expect: a home of their own, a car, appliances, and enough money to raise two children.

Surviving in Poland in the 1980s, however, has meant abandoning almost all of those once standard expectations. Pawel, a cook, and Malgosia, a nurse, were driven from their state jobs to private employment because of the low state pay and lack of opportunity. They have put off having a second child because the needs of the first, 3-year-old Jakub, already are more than they can afford.

Worst of all, the Kadzielas are still camped in one room of Pawel's parents' apartment after six years of marriage and have no prospect of finding their own place to buy or rent within the next 20 years. Owning a car, even a used subcompact, is an equally distant prospect.

"I know in other countries the beginning is always hard for young couples. But you can expect that if you work hard things will slowly get better," said Malgosia, a sturdy, dark-haired woman of 27. "Here you don't get anywhere. It doesn't pay to be a good worker, because you can't change your situation."

The Kadzielas' frustration has been the common story of Poland in recent years. Since the economy collapsed in 1980-81 and the free trade union Solidarity was suppressed under martial law, millions of young people in this youthful country have come of age, married and quickly had children, only to discover that a shattered socialist system was entirely unprepared for their new families.

The result has been a social crisis that has increased in seriousness and political significance with each passing year of economic stagnation. Due to the boom of marriages and childbearing, more than half of Poland's 11 million families are now couples under 24 with young children.

These families, government studies show, face problems of housing, employment, pay and child care unknown in Poland since the hardship years of reconstruction after World War II. "Poland in the 1980s has given young people the most difficult living situation," said Anna Mastalerz, a researcher at the Institute for Youth Studies. "They don't have housing and they don't have money for the most basic and important things -- like a refrigerator or furniture."

Communist authorities have tried to alleviate the problems of young couples with various programs in recent years, including a system of credits and buying preferences for appliances and furniture. But in the most important area, housing, government construction has decreased in the 1980s, worsening an already critical problem.

Official studies now show a deepening disillusionment of young adults with the state and its leadership, and the press has recently reported with alarm about a rising wave of emigration to western countries by young Poles. One recently published poll showed that more than half of all young people want to leave Poland for an extended period, and 12 percent said they wanted to leave for good.

The one activity not discouraged by the growing problems of young families is family-building itself. Official figures show that young people continue to marry early and quickly have children, even if there is no place to put them.

"Our studies show that no situation -- housing, income, lack of prospects -- has any influence on the decision to begin a family," said Lucyna Nowak of the Government Statistics Department. "As conditions get harder, people want to have something they can be sure of, and that is a family."

For a newly married couple, with or without a child, the most immediate problem is housing. Poland's housing shortage is so severe that most young couples cannot even get on the waiting lists to buy cooperative apartments, and those on the lists have a wait of 17 to 20 years.

A study led by Nowak showed that 70 percent of newly married couples must share apartments with families or other people. The average couple, the study showed, has only 24 square meters of its own to live in and raise children -- the space of a small bedroom.

Another government study showed that problems related to the lack of housing are a factor in 80 percent of divorces among young couples. "Against the general and quite universal frustration of large groups of young people, it is above all the lack of any real chance of obtaining an apartment which causes a sense of hopelessness when they envisage their future," said a report this year by the Polish Sociological Society.

After six years of marriage, Pawel and Malgosia Kadziela remain only "candidate members" of a housing cooperative, with actual membership -- and the beginning of the two-decade wait for an apartment -- still two to three years away.

"Our prospects for our own place are none," Malgosia said bluntly. "I figure that by the time we get an apartment we will give it to our son, because he will be 24 or 25 by then."

Those young couples lucky enough to get an apartment are usually relegated to the thick stands of gray concrete high-rise buildings on the edges of Polish cities. In Warsaw, these suburbs are so Spartan that young children must go to overcrowded schools in three shifts a day.

After struggling with housing, Polish couples must take on the question of state sector jobs. In most couples, both the husband and the wife work. Yet because of distortions in the pay system, young skilled workers have among the lowest incomes in Poland. Studies show that the higher the training and education of a young worker, the lower his state salary is likely to be.

Overall, government figures show that the average newlywed couple with children has a monthly income of 7,000 zlotys per person -- equal to $24 at the official exchange rate and nearly 30 percent lower than the poverty line calculated by Poland's official trade unions.

What makes this deprivation more frustrating for many couples is that they see little prospect that they can significantly improve their income or jobs.

Recently, there have been signs that communist authorities also have concluded that the state system cannot provide adequate opportunities for the new wave of adults. The economic reform program unveiled by the government of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski this month says opportunities for private enterprise must be expanded as a way of allowing young couples to achieve their goals.

"Life perspectives for the young mean economic operation under conditions of unrestrained possibilities for fostering individual initiatives and ideas," says the program outline. "The prospect for fulfilling the personal ambitions of every young Pole is contained in the spirit of enterprise."