Turkey’s Population Policy: A Proxy War against Working Women?

Joe Hammoura

Up until 2008, Turkey’s domestic policies had been largely confined to implementing reforms that concur with its desire to join the European Union (EU). Following 2008, and after its progress towards joining the European club had encountered some setbacks, Turkey gained some freedom to act as it pleased on the domestic level. Its GDP growth rate steadily increased, reaching a peak of 8.8% in 2011 [1]. The vitality of the Turkish people, a large proportion of whom are young and capable of working and producing, has, over the last ten years, played a major part in the improvement of Turkey’s economic situation. This, in turn, led to social changes including a large decline in the birth rate. The successive waves of migration from rural to urban areas for work played a key part in this decline.

The Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) has been influential in warning the Turkish authorities of the danger posed by the country’s declining birth rate. Since at least 2008, it has been publishing unsettling statistics and studies on Turkey’s demographic situation, and debriefing the authorities on their projected estimates for the coming years in this regard. For example, in 2013, TurkStat published a detailed report demonstrating that by 2049 the population size will have begun to decline, because of the increasing portion aged over 65 years and the increasing average age. The above-65 cohort will increase from 7.5% of the total population in 2012 to 10.2% in 2023, whereas the average age will increase from 30.1 years in 2012 to 34 years by 2023, and 42.9 years by 2050. The report also indicated that the fertility rate, which was 4.33 in 1976, had fallen to 2 by 2012, and will drop to just 1.6 by 2050. The report added that Turkey, with its population at the beginning of 2013 numbering around 77 million, is currently the 18th most populated country, but it will fall to the 20th position by 2050 if no measures or policies are adopted to alter the situation [2]. This relative drop will entail a decline in Turkey’s economic power, and its political standing among its peer countries.

These numbers, which seem unsettling for a state that strives to be an active and influential economic power in its region, have in the last few years prompted Turkish authorities to employ a series of measures and campaigns to motivate Turks to reproduce, and counteract the aging population problem. While several well-thought-out methods have been employed to stop Turkey’s demographic bleed, most of these measures have been directed at Turkish women.

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