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    The powerful Turkey of the future and children in poverty

    Ozan Acar17 November 2012 - Okunma Sayısı: 1912


    Turkey has a demographic opportunity window that has been enjoyed by only a few countries. The number of primary-school age children in the country is higher than the entire population of many European countries. Yet, current trends suggest that Turkey’s population will age rapidly in the period ahead. The only way to prevent the ageing of the population is to increase fertility rates. With this perspective, the argument that the fertility rate must be increased from 2 to 3 children per family makes sense. This doubtless is a mathematical fact.

    But how about the deep-rooted child poverty problem? Raising fertility without eradicating poverty would intensify the child poverty problem. Given that the majority of poor children live in the Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia, wouldn’t any rise in fertility inflame social and economic problems in the mentioned regions? Let’s try to answer these questions via a brief analysis.

    Let’s investigate the relationship between the average number of children per household and household income to begin with. Calculations based on the Income Distribution and Living Conditions Survey (ILCS, 2009) conducted by the Turkish Statistical Institute indicate that average number of children per household is higher in low-income households (Figure-1).[1][2] Average number of children per household is 1 in the highest-income group and 3.5 in the lowest-income group. We can’t tell without comprehensive economic and sociological analysis why households in financial difficulty tend to have more children. Let me leave that part to experts and focus on the deep-rooted child poverty problem in Turkey taking departure from the negative correlation between the average number of children per household and household income.

    Forty out of every 100 children in Turkey live in poor households[3]. But, what does it mean for a child to live in a poor household? This question can be answered partially by analyzing ILCS statistics. There is a drastic gap between the opportunities that families in the highest quintile and the lowest quintile are able to provide for their children (Table-1). Each row in the table is striking, but I want to mention three here:

    • First, almost 90 percent of poor households with children between 1 and 16 cannot afford one meal of meat, chicken or fish a day.
    • Second, 70 percent of poor households are not able to provide an area suitable for studying productively for their children.
    • Finally, due to financial difficulties 70 percent of poor families failed to take their children to a doctor when it was necessary.

    How can children deprived of a healthy diet, an appropriate studying area and of seeing a doctor when necessary help Turkey achieve its ambitious targets?

    Child poverty intensifies regional inequality and resultant social problems. Child poverty is more prevalent in the eastern Turkey than it is in the western Turkey (Table-2). There are two key reasons. First is that income levels are relatively low in eastern Turkey. Second, average number of children per household is significantly above in the east than in the west. In Southeastern Anatolia region, 53 percent of total child population (1.4 million children) lives in unfortunate conditions. In Central-Eastern Anatolia region, 46 percent of children (570,000) suffer from financial difficulties. Forty-two percent of the child population (290,000 children) in Northeastern Anatolia lives in poverty. On the other hand, child poverty ratios are remarkably lower in Eastern Marmara, Aegean region, or Istanbul.

    As regional disparities in child poverty prove, it is well likely that the gap between western and eastern Turkey will pertain for generations. It is quite difficult to permanently ease regional disparities and resulting social unrest unless the gap of opportunities available for children of rich families that live in Istanbul and poor families that live in Şırnak is closed.

    Can Turkey increase child population and enhance opportunities available for all children at the same time? Yes, if the tax system is revised so as to enable income justice, the social assistance is distributed with a pronounced aim to reduce child poverty and the quality of and access to basic services are improved in underdeveloped regions. Evidently, as a first step we need to become aware of the child poverty problem, which doesn’t seem to have a place in Turkey’s current agenda.

    It is already time for Turkey to put child poverty at the center of the social policy agenda. To whom this might concern.

    Figure-1: Average number of children per household by 5% income brackets

    Source: TURKSTAT Income Distribution and Life Conditions Survey, TEPAV calculations

    Table 1: Regional disparities in child poverty


    Source: TURKSTAT Income Distribution and Life Conditions Survey, TEPAV calculations

    Table 2: Satisfaction of children’s basic needs in high- and low-income families


    Source: TURKSTAT Income Distribution and Life Conditions Survey, TEPAV calculations

    [1] Household incomes are adjusted using the “square root” method used in income inequality analyses. This method refers to the scale which divides the annual household income by the square root of household size. This implies that certain expenditures don’t increase linearly as the household size grows. For example, if household size increases from 2 to 4 people, electricity bill will not grow to 10 to 15 units. Equalization of household incomes with this method therefore suggests that a household of four persons needs twice as the income of a household of one person.

    [2] Calculations involve only households with children, which gives us a comparable group of households. Households that are composed of elder persons and or persons that don’t have any dependents were left out.

    [3] When calculating child poverty ratios, households in the lowest income quintile were considered as poor households. All individuals at or below the age of 15 were considered as children. Child poverty rate was calculated by dividing child population to children living in households within the lowest income quintile.

    *Ozan Acar, TEPAV Economic Policy Analyst,