Turkey, a population of 81 million, is statistically classified among young populated countries, with a median age of 32 by 2018. This is a striking contrast when especially compared with European and other industrialized countries. In the EU-28, the median age was almost 43 by 2016, according to the European Statistical Institute (EuroStat). While the youngsters among Europeans are shrinking chronically day by day, 19.2 percent of Europeans are elderly (aged 65 and over) as of 2016 and it is in an immense increase trend. Furthermore, the fertility rates are almost stagnating across Europe and in all industrialized societies.
But the clock is ticking for Turkey too. The fertility rates have been in a constant decline in the country for the last two decades. Today, fertility per women has fallen to 2.07, which indicates a historical low. As a result, the median age has passed the level of 30 in 2012 for the first time in the country's history. Moreover, thanks to the expansion in health care, the overall life expectancy of the birth figure of the country has increased to 78 by 2016, from well below 65 at 2002, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat). These are alarming bells for the country that it will turn into an aging society in a few decades if no intervention is done.
Foreseeing this threat, the country is implementing quite innovative pro-natalist policies for some time. There are several incentives and policies being implemented for increasing the fertility rate in the country and for inducing a baby boom, like the Programme for the Protection of Family and the Dynamic Population Structure of 2015. The state is even paying cash for each born, TL 300 ($80) for the first born, TL 400 for the second and TL 600 for the third. As a very important contribution to these policies, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is constantly underlining the importance of having at least three children for all families in many of his public speeches. The aim of the country is to increase the fertility rate first above 2.1 in the short run and to 3.0 in the long run.Contrary to the prejudices of many Western journalists, these policies have nothing to do with Islamism or nationalism. Turkey's emerging pro-natalist policies are within the aim of avoiding a future threat of being an aging society.
Scenarios covering 2018-2080Are these policies effective to change Turkey's demographic trends? TurkStat recently updated its population projections for the country. The new projections are giving clues on the answer of this question. The latest projection of TurkStat, which is published on Feb. 21, is covering the period up to 2080. The previous projection, which was published on Feb 24, 2013, was covering the period between 2013 and 2075. New population projections were produced according to three different scenarios, high, low and basic scenarios, which are produced in-line with different fertility and international net migration assumptions.
When we look to the base scenario of the TurkStat, Turkey's population is expected to exceed 100 million as of 2040. It was expected to pass 92 million of Turkey's population in the previous projections. If the current demographic trends continue, the Turkish population, which is 80.8 million as of 2017, will be expected to increase to almost 87 million by 2023 and 100.3 million by 2040. When assessed with the high scenario, the population is expected to even reach to 103.5 million by 2040.
Additionally, according to the base scenario, Turkey's population will keep on increasing until 2069 and reach the highest value with 107.664 million people in this year. The population of the country foreseen to decrease from this year, and regress to 107.100 million in 2080. In the previous projection of 2013, it was expected that the population will peak at 93.4 million by 2050, then start to decrease after this year and to be 89.2 million in 2075.
Slowed down the Aging TrendThere is a quite significant change in the new statistical projection for Turkey's demographic structure. The amended scenario of Turkey shows that the country has achieved to decelerate the aging trend of the country and succeeded to slightly increase fertility rates in recent years. This signifies that the pro-natalist policies of Turkey are working. Thanks to these policies, the peak population of the country will be 107 million by 2080, rather than being 93 million by 2050. This means postponing the aging crush with a decade. Additionally, the new projection shows that the trend for having less children, which is an uninterrupted trend since the 1980s, is started to show signs of change within society.
Yet, in the new projection aging is still a visible and undeniable trend for Turkey. The life expectancy at birth is expected to increase with an accelerating rate in the country and the population will continue to age. The recent intervention just slowed the pace, not changed the direction. The median age of the population, which is an important indicator of age structure, is expected to be 33.5 in 2023, 38.5 in 2040, 42.3 in 2060 and 45 in 2080. In addition to that, the proportion of the population aged 65 and over (defined as the elderly population) is envisaged to be 8.7 percent in 2018, 10.2 percent in 2023, 16.3 percent in 2040, 22.6 percent in 2060 and 25.6 percent in 2080.
Nonetheless, the slowing down of the aging trend is visible. The median age expectations of the old scenario regarding Turkey's population has significantly changed with the recent projection. In the old projection the median age of Turkey was expected to be 42.9 in 2050 and 47.4 in 2075. Likewise, in the old projection, the ratio of the elderly population to the total population was expected to increase from 10.2 percent in 2023 to 20.8 percent in 2050 and to 27.7 percent in 2075.
As another very significant indicator, the new projection forecast that the proportion of the population aged 15-64 years (which is defined as the working age group) will be 67.8 percent in 2018, 67.2 percent in 2023, 64.4 percent in 2040, 60.4 percent in 2060 and 58.7 percent in 2080. The proportion of the population in the 0-14 age group (which is the child population) is forecast to be 23.5 percent in 2018, 22.6 percent in 2023, 19.3 percent in 2040, 16.9 percent in 2060 and 15 percent by 2080. All these figures are way much better than the previous forecast of 2013.Overall, the recent statistics show that Turkey has partially succeeded in delaying its aging trend and has gained another golden decade before crushing with the catastrophic effects of aging. Extending its demographic window of opportunity is good news for the country. Yet, the direction is clear, aging is an inevitable fate for the country, as all the industrialized countries have destined. Before this inevitable fate arrives, the country needs to do lots of things, from creating a better education system for its young population to establishing an elderly care insurance system. The demographic judgement day has been delayed in Turkey, but lots of homework is still to be done. The demographic window of opportunity is a golden egg, but only if you can use it wisely and are prepared.
* Inspector at Republic of Turkey's Social Security Institution