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    Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees

    Güven Sak, PhD16 April 2016 - Okunma Sayısı: 1695

    I was in Washington, DC this week. Having attended multiple panels on the region, I heard so many negative things about the current state of affairs in Turkey. Especially the word “vexation” was used so many times with reference to Turkey. Speaking to concerned observers, I just point out the latest survey results of Turkish Statistics Institution. The institution has announced just yesterday that the fertility rate among Turkish women in 2015 has declined to 2.14. In 2016, the expectation is for this rate to further decline to 2.1.

    What does that mean? Turkey’s population will never reach 100 million, that’s what it means, provided that all Syrian population does not decide to come to Turkey, of course. 2.1 is that magical rate to just stabilize your total population to where it is. It’s called “sub-replacement fertility threshold;” anything below 2.1 and each generation becomes less populous than the previous one. “What does that signify?” you may ask. This trend just displays that despite all the insistent political rhetoric, ideological campaigns and fiscal incentives for 3 children per woman, not much is happening. Sometimes it is better to zoom out and take the long view. Let me tell you what I see when I look at this figure.

    When I was born in the early 1960s, Turkey was a sleepy agrarian country. Urbanization rate was around 30 percent and the fertility rate was around 6.3. Triple that of our day, mind you. Around that time, the fertility rate in Korea was also around 6.2, whereas Swedish fertility rate was as low as 2.2. What happened in the following decades? Korea converged towards the Swedish fertility rate and declined to 2.2 average births per woman in 1983 and Turkey did so in 2005.

    So, there is an ongoing convergence process towards advanced industrial democracies when it comes to the fertility rates of women. In turn, this signifies a considerable change in the social structure and lifestyles of Turks and Koreans. Rising urbanization and the resulting change in mode of production is the culprit. People migrated to the cities; women increasingly participated in the labour force and fertility rates declined. It occurred in Turkey as it should be expected in any modern society. Fertility rate in Turkey was 6.3 in 1961, declined to 4.2 in 1981, and is now 2.1 in 2015. Female labour force participation rate in Turkey is still as low as 30 percent, compared to Sweden’s 60 percent, mind you. So don’t be surprised to see further convergence of fertility rates as more women enter the labour force in Turkey.

    You may find Turkey irritating sometimes. You may find things rather noisy and chaotic. The country’s ups and downs may vex you.  But just do not lose sight of the whole forest as you obsess about a few trees. Sometimes zooming out is necessary to get a better understanding of the bigger picture, if you ask me. When looking at Turkey, these are the times to zoom out. The country is still modernizing and normalizing, no matter what.  To begin with, Turkey’s population will never reach 100 Million. Period.

    This commentary was published in Hürriyet Daily News on 16.04.2016