Birth statistics for 2015 released on Friday by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) indicate a slight decline in live births and the overall fertility rate in Turkey. Figures were published amid growing concern over Turkey's aging population in a country of more than 78 million people. The elderly population, those aged 65 and over, exceeded 6.4 million in 2015, and that demographic rose from 8 percent to 8.2 percent in a country struggling to achieve growth after years of economic instability.
TurkStat said the number of live births was 1.325 million in 2015 and less than 1.345 million in 2014. The total fertility rate, which indicates the average number of live births for a woman in her reproductive life - between the ages of 15 and 49 declined from 2.18 to 2.174 children in 2014, according to TurkStat. Boys dominated live births at 51 percent. TurkStat says the replacement level of fertility, standing at 2.1, has been exceeded. This refers to the rotational replacement of each generation with a new one without any losses; namely, two children replacing their parents equates to an average of 2.1 births in developed countries. TurkStat figures also indicate the natural birth rate, or the number of live births per thousand in the population, declined to 16.9 per every 1,000 last year, from 17.4 in 2014. Şanlıurfa once again had the highest crude birth rate at 33.2 per 1,000 live births.
The country is looking to encourage births in the face of a rapidly aging population, with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spearheading efforts with his well-known advice directed at families to have at least three children.
Şanlıurfa, a southeastern city where the highest total fertility rate was recorded at 4.38 children, kept this trend, maintaining the highest rate after securing its title in 2013 with 4.31 children.
Şanlıurfa is followed by other southeastern and eastern cities in terms of high fertility rates including Şırnak, Ağrı, Siirt, Muş, Mardin, Bitlis, Van, Batman and Diyarbakır. The predominantly Kurdish region has a long-standing tradition of producing large families. The western and northern cities have the lowest fertility rates, with Edirne reporting the lowest rate - 1.53 children - followed by Çanakkale with 1.53 children.
The falling fertility rates have not just been confined to Turkey but the EU as well, which has also witnessed fluctuating rates in the last few decades after a brief increase in the early 2000s. The latest statistics from the EU's statistics agency EuroStat show that 5.1 million children were born in 28 EU states in 2014 compared to 10.6 million in 2000, while the total fertility rate per woman was 1.58 live births in 2014.
Though it decreased last year, experts attribute the gradual slowdown in fertility rates to urbanization, a rising in women being educated and their active participation in the workforce that indirectly led to the postponement of births. The highest age-specific fertility rate last year was in the 25-29 age group according to TurkStat, with 135 per 1,000 women. The adolescent fertility rate or fertility rate among women married as early as 15 or 19 also saw a decline. Turkey has recently started an awareness campaign to prevent families from marrying off their children at an early age, a disturbing phenomenon also known as "child brides" common among the uneducated public. The government, which extended mandatory schooling, seeks to curb dropout rates among girls forced into marriage.
The government plans to encourage births for working women in a bid to boost the population and economic growth at the same time. A proposed bill will allow women who use maternity leave without pay to get one promotion for each year they are away and allow them to raise their degree of employment for every three years they are away. The draft also allows them to be able to work for up to half a day of normal working hours without any interruption to their financial and social rights for 60 days after the birth of their first child, 120 days after the second child and for 180 days after additional births.