Pronatalist policies of Turkey: the fight against becoming an ageing society
by Bünyamin Esen
Mar 13, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Bünyamin Esen
Mar 13, 2015 12:00 am
Europe and many industrialized countries are trying to cope with the problem of ageing populations as a retrograding problem day by day. In the 28 EU member states, overall life expectancy at birth has increased from 74.5 in 2002 to 77.5 by 2012, according to Eurostat. The situation is even more striking in industrialized East Asian countries like Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong. Overall life expectancy figures are almost 85 in these countries, even 90 for women. Additionally, as fertility rates are almost stagnating in all industrialized societies, median age figures are hitting historically high records. This means more people are living longer in the industrialized world, as the elderly are getting better treatment and care, and as an obvious result, life expectancy at birth is breaking historical records.
But this is just one side of the coin. On the other side, changes in family patterns result in enormous effects in the demographic distribution of societies. In European, American and almost all advanced economies, young people prefer not to marry or at least to marry later and not to have children, or only one child even when they do get married. Other family models such as "civil partnerships," "flat-sharing" and "gay couples" directly affect the demographics and social structure of a society. In other words, more people are living longer in the industrialized world, but less people reproduce.
What is wrong with living longer?
You may ask, what is wrong with more people living longer? At first glance, nothing. It means that more people are being treated for preventable diseases, and more people are living healthy lifestyles, which leads to a longer life. But when we look deeper, there are many implications involved in living longer. The increase in the percentage of the elderly among the general population results in a less active workforce, greater dependency and more retired people. As a matter of fact, this creates a gap in finding a sufficient workforce to be recruited in the industrialized world, which undermines an economy's general productivity.
The existence of more elderly people also creates a burden for care and social security budgets. More people receive pensions and retirement benefits for more years in addition to expenses at elderly care facilities and elderly health care. All of this results in the decline in active/passive ratios of social security systems, which represents the number of active workers to the number of those who are passive and dependent. As a result, this picture triggers a historical challenge for European welfare regimes. Analysts are expecting bankruptcy for the Western-style welfare systems, with some pessimists expecting this to happen in a decade or less.
Turkey may have a young population
What is Turkey's situation in this bigger picture? Well, Turkey is quite a young population, especially when compared to the EU average. The country is statistically classified among young populated countries.
But the clock is ticking for our country, too. The fertility rate has been in constant decline for the last two decades. Today, fertility has fallen to 2.07 children per woman, which is a historical low for the country. As a result, the median age increased above 30 in 2012 for the first time in the country's history. This is an alarm bell for the country, signaling that it may turn into an ageing society in the coming decades if this trend keeps going in this direction.
The better the healthcare, the more elderly
Additionally, life expectancy is also significantly increasing in Turkey. Overall life expectancy at birth increased to 76.3 in 2013 from well below 65 in 2002, according to figures from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK). This signifies a historical increase. In other words, Turkish people are also much healthier and living significantly longer.
This is a direct result of the improvements in healthcare facilities undertaken by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) governments over the last decade. Thanks to the Healthcare Transformation Program, which has upgraded all public hospitals, and investments in the latest healthcare technologies, today the average Turkish citizen has access to significantly better healthcare compared to a decade ago. Adil Gür, from the respected research company, "A&G," emphasizes that the improvements in healthcare alone increase AK Party votes by almost 6 to 8 percent.
Of course, the Social Security Reform, which led to the expansion in coverage of social security and healthcare services, also contributed to this increase in life expectancy in Turkey. While eye and dental care are not covered by the healthcare systems even in the most advanced healthcare models of Europe, such as the U.K.'s National Health Service (NHS) model, almost all health problems, including eye and dental care and fertility treatment, are within the scope of the system and free of charge.
This improved healthcare system is attracting patients even from outside the country. Today, Turkey is a healthcare tourism center within its region, with millions coming to the country each year to access better and cheaper healthcare.
Pronatalist policies of the AK Party
The AK Party's pronatalist and pro-family policies must be understood within this context. Prime Minister Ahmet Davudoğlu announced the new Program for the Protection of the Family and Dynamic Population Structure in January 2015. There are several incentives and policy proposals in the program for increasing the fertility rate in the country and for encouraging a baby boom. The state is even considering paying cash for the first three babies - TL 300 ($116) for the first born, TL 400 for the second and TL 600 for the third. As President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said, families having at least three children is an officially-promoted policy.
There are important aspects in the program's package from premium and wage incentives for female employees to flexible working arrangements for mothers. Although all the details have yet to be clarified and the package has not passed into law, by looking at the initial announcements, it can be said that the Program for the Protection of the Family and Dynamic Population Structure has great potential.
Protecting Turkey's demographic advantage
Reporters in the international media sometimes, if not usually, misinterpret the AK Party's policy initiatives. The AK Party governments' pronatalist policies are one of these areas. It has to be underlined that these policies have nothing to do with Islamism or nationalism. As Davudoğlu has emphasized, Turkey's emerging pronatalist policies are aimed at avoiding the future threat of becoming an ageing society. The aim is to increase the fertility rate first above 2.1 in the short run and to three in the long run.
Keeping the country's population young is a strategic aim for the AK Party in order to keep up Turkey's development trend and reach its 2023 economic goals. According to this perspective, Turkey has to increase its young population for maintaining development, of course with the preconditions of creating a better education system for this younger population, and to be able to create more jobs for them. In this regard, Turkey has a double challenge ahead - not only to protect its demographic advantage, but also to create an economic and scientific base for utilizing the advantages of a younger population.
About the author
* Inspector at Republic of Turkey’s Social Security Institution