According to TUIK data, Turkey’s fertility rate was 1.88 children per woman of fertile age in 2019, defined as the 15-49 year age group. This is below the 2.1 replacement rate.
Sociologist Fatih Aysan says there are multiple reasons for this decline. He says Turkey’s population is ageing, and the drop in fertility, which in the 1960s was around six children per woman and around four in the 1980s, is around two nowadays.
In a paper first published in 2014 and updated in 2019, called “Turkey’s demographic transformation and new challenges,” Aysan writes that between 1945 and 2010 death rates have fallen while birth rates have fallen less steeply, which resulted in an increase in Turkey’s population. Yet the era starting from around the 2010s both death and birth rates have been stabilised at low rates, resulting in what is known as “demographic ageing”.
Aysan tells TRT World that Turkey is undergoing a demographic transition, which means both the birth and the death rate are showing a decline. This causes the population to age.
According to Aysan, the population over 65 is increasing in ratio, reaching 8.5 to 9 percent - referred to as “ageing at the top” - with the death rates among the elderly declining. At the same time, there is “ageing at the bottom” - the decline of new births and the ageing of the youth population without children.
The two effects cause Turkey’s population to age. “I believe this trend will continue,” Aysan tells TRT World, “as people get married at a later age because both men and women continue their education.”
He also points out that aside from all other factors, women’s rising education levels affect fertility rates, as well as the age in which they give birth, if at all.
“In the past,” Aysan says, “in rural Turkey, people got married earlier and a woman had thirty years of fertility ahead of her, from the age of 15 to the age of 45.”
“But now if she gets married at 30 she has 15 years of fertility ahead of her.”
TUIK’s data shows that the percentage of legal child marriages (of age 16 and 17) have declined to 3.1 percent in 2019 whereas that rate was 4.2 percent in 2017.
Aysan says it is a costly endeavour to raise children in urban settings, especially when compared to having a family in the countryside. “Parents in the city have fewer children and want to provide the best for them.”
Aysan also points out that divorce rates are increasing, and this affects fertility. It is also influenced by people becoming more individualistic, focusing on self-actualisation and following their dreams. There is also the urbanisation factor.
Aysan tells TRT World that some European countries have already gone through these developments, namely during the 1970s and the 1980s. In Turkey, “we are living through these developments in the past 10 years.”
Europe is a rapidly ageing population, with Nordic countries going against the tide and showing some success with their labour market policies, Aysan says. While Nordic countries were providing generous pre-and post-natal incentives to women and their partners, southern European countries didn’t come up with as effective strategies, Aysan adds. “That’s why in southern Europe fertility rates have taken a deep dive.”
Coming back to Turkey, Aysan says that while he does not expect fertility rates to climb back to three, he believes there need to be policies, such as the ones announced in 2015 regarding dynamic population structure, to support the working woman.
“She needs to be able to work and have children easily and we need strong, supportive policies for that,” Aysan emphasises. “A strong family unit, a strong family structure.”