ThE dE­mo­graphic Trans­for­ma­Tion of TurkEy

Turkey is pass­ing through a phase that all de­vel­oped coun­tries have passed through. The de­mo­graphic trans­for­ma­tion of the coun­try is par­tially due to the in­crease in the qual­ity of life and im­prove­ments in health­care and so­cial ser­vices

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Opinion -

The world is ag­ing. Pe­riod. This is one of the most prom­i­nent prob­lems in to­day’s world. Look­ing back through his­tory, there has never been a time when the con­cept of ag­ing was on the agenda as much as to­day. The pop­u­la­tion of the world, which took al­most one-and-a-half cen­turies (1800-1927) to reach two bil­lion from a bil­lion, in­creased at a steady but not very high rate for two cen­turies, from the 1750s to the 1950s. How­ever, from the early 20th cen­tury, the trend has changed dra­mat­i­cally. Thanks to ad­vances in med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy and the comforts of modern-life, life ex­pectan­cies have in­creased and more ba­bies are be­ing born. To­day, we are 7.5 bil­lion hu­mans re­sid­ing on this tiny planet. By the mid-21st cen­tury we are ex­pected to be 10 bil­lion with an im­mense old-age pop­u­la­tion.

Ag­ing af­fects so­ci­eties in all kinds of ways. From so­cial or­ga­ni­za­tion to pub­lic bud­get­ing, from per­sonal re­la­tion­ships to con­sump­tion pat­terns, it trans­forms so­ci­ety in a revo­lu­tion­ary way. Ag­ing means less ac­tive la­bor, less tax col­lec­tion, less na­tional in­come with a more de­pen­dent so­ci­ety, more health care ex­penses and more pas­sive cit­i­zens. European wel­fare states are al­ready on the brink of col­lapse due to this colos­sal problem. More­over, the sit­u­a­tion de­te­ri­o­rates day by day. Es­ti­mates are say­ing that be­fore the first quar­ter of the 21st cen­tury is com­pleted, there will be one bil­lion el­derly peo­ple world­wide. This is ex­pected to in­crease to 2 bil­lion by 2050, with a great por­tion in-need of care and crit­i­cal-care.


Turkey, with its 80.5 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion, is still con­sid­ered among the “young pop­u­la­tion coun­tries.” As of 2016, a quar­ter of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion was un­der 15 years of age, 68 per­cent be­tween the age of 15 and 64, which is con­sid­ered as work­ing-age pop­u­la­tion, and only 8.2 per­cent of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion is classed as el­derly. This presents a young and dy­namic pop­u­la­tion struc­ture: A dreamy pic­ture in terms of de­mog­ra­phy for any European coun­try.

How­ever, things have been chang­ing for some time for Turkey. The rate of pop­u­la­tion growth be­gan to de­cline af­ter the 1960s in the coun­try. And now, it is at the brink of a crit­i­cal turn­ing point. The me­dian age in the coun­try, which was 31 in 2015, in­creased to 31.4 in 2016 and has been show­ing a steady in­crease for more than a decade. The fer­til­ity rate of the coun­try, which was 3.41 in 1970, al­ready de­clined to 2.14 by 2015 and is ex­pected to de­cline im­mensely to 1.65 by 2050. The pop­u­la­tion growth rate is also show­ing the same trend: It was 2.52 per­cent in 1970, de­clined to 1.34 by 2015, and this trend con­tin­ues keeps on.


De­mo­graphic pro­jec­tions sug­gest that Turkey is a firm can­di­date to be an ag­ing coun­try. The Turk­ish Sta­tis­ti­cal In­sti­tu­tion’s (TurkS­tat) pop­u­la­tion pro­jec­tions show that Turkey will be classed among the el­derly pop­u­lated coun­tries by the mid­dle of the cen­tury. Es­ti­mates sug­gest that the pop­u­la­tion in the 100th year of the Repub­lic, by 2023, will be 84.9 mil­lion and 95.8 mil­lion in the mid­dle of the cen­tury. From 2050 on­wards, the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion of the coun­try will start to de­crease as well, along­side an in­creas­ing per­cent­age of el­derly cit­i­zens.

Ac­cord­ing to pro­jec­tions, the ra­tio of young peo­ple in the coun­try will grad­u­ally de­crease from 2023 on­ward, and the pro­por­tion of el­derly will start to in­crease rapidly. This means, Turkey will not have an ac­tive, young pop­u­la­tion as to­day in the near fu­ture.

The United Na­tion’s World Pop­u­la­tion Projects also rings the same alarm bells for Turkey. It es­ti­mates that the young pop­u­la­tion among the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion of Turkey, which was 16.3 per­cent ac­cord­ing to the re­sults for the year 2016, will de­cline to 15.6 per­cent in 2023 and 11.8 per­cent by 2050. By con­trast, the pro­por­tion of our el­derly peo­ple, which was 8.2 per­cent in 2016, is ex­pected to rise to 10.2 per­cent in 2023, 20.8 per­cent by 2050 and to 27 per­cent by 2075. Con­sid­ered nu­mer­i­cally, it is ex­pected that peo­ple 65 years and older in the coun­try will num­ber 19.5 mil­lion in 2050 and 8.6 mil­lion in 2023.

In­di­ca­tors at hand show that the trend of de­cline in the rate of pop­u­la­tion growth and the fer­til­ity rate are push­ing the coun­try to lose its pro­duc­tive, ac­tive pop­u­la­tion, which would even­tu­ally cre­ate the in­evitable risk of sup­press­ing sus­tain­able devel­op­ment.


This is not a sur­pris­ing pic­ture for re­searchers study­ing de­mo­graph­ics. Turkey is pass­ing through a phase that all de­vel­oped coun­tries have passed through. The de­mo­graphic trans­for­ma­tion of the coun­try is par­tially due to the in­crease in the qual­ity of life and im­prove­ments in health­care and so­cial ser­vices. The ex­pected life at-birth was 40 in the 1950s in the coun­try; how­ever, it climbed to 75.3 for men and 80.7 for women by 2015, thanks to the revo­lu­tion­ary Health­care Trans­for­ma­tion Pro­gram.

Yet, Turkey’s story is dif­fer­ent from that of all other mod­ern­ized coun­tries. The coun­try has a two decade-long win­dow of op­por­tu­nity be­fore it faces the se­vere problem of ag­ing that European’s are al­ready fac­ing. In other words, Turkey has two decades to spend wisely be­fore hit­ting the wall of ag­ing.

In fact, many Turk­ish politi­cians are aware of this threat. For some time, the govern­ment has been try­ing to in­cen­tivize mar­riage and ap­ply prona­tal­ist poli­cies. Pres­i­dent Er­doğan con­stantly makes state­ments that all fam­i­lies must have at least three chil­dren.

Yet, ev­i­dence shows that trig­ger­ing a baby boom can­not be a so­lu­tion for Turkey’s ap­proach­ing ag­ing problem; it can only slow the pace. The coun­try needs to take sev­eral mea­sures, from in­creas­ing the fer­til­ity rate to build­ing a modern el­derly-care model, from align­ing its so­cial se­cu­rity sys­tem to an ag­ing so­ci­ety to in­cen­tives ac­tive ag­ing for all its pop­u­la­tion. The re­form to in­stall gen­eral oldage care in­sur­ance, which will be com­pul­sory for all, is one of the ma­jor steps be­ing spo­ken of in pol­icy cir­cles. In sum, Turkey has to take colos­sal steps in this is­sue. What­ever the coun­try does, it has to be quick; the clock is tick­ing, and the win­dow of op­por­tu­nity is clos­ing for Turkey.

* Repub­lic of Turkey So­cial Se­cu­rity In­spec­tor, MSc in So­cial Pol­icy (LSE), Ph.D. Can­di­date in Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence (Boğaz­içi Univer­sity)

A tramway passes by as peo­ple walk on the crowded İstik­lal street in Is­tan­bul.

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