Projections indicate that the working population of Turkey will keep on growing in the years ahead, something which is regarded as anlikely stimulus for economic growth. However an increase in the working population does not guarantee that prosperity will also rise in Turkey. Converting population increase in Turkey into wealth requires Turkey’s working population is active and productive. In short, if the population is unemployed or if not unemployed, then let us say low in productivity, we have to recognize that it will not be able to make a positive contribution to Turkey’s economic development. So if we want to harness the expansion of the working population for economic opportunity, then we have to give greater priority to investing in human capital and we have to work hard to raise the quality of education at every stage, from pre-school education to life-long learning.
In 2010 Turkey had a population of 36 million people agedbetween 25 and 64. The available population estimates suggest that the number of people in this age group will rise steadily until 2045 when it will reach 49 million. But after 2045, the working population of Turkey will start to fall as a percentage of the total population, while the number of Turks aged above 65 will rise to become about 20% of the total. During the same period, the working population of Europe is likely to fall rapidly. Between 2015 and 2050, the number of people aged between 25 and 64 in Turkey is expected to fall by 20%, dropping from 415 million to 335 million. So, as Europeans get older, it is crucially important to equip the youthful population of Turkey with skills ensuring that they are productive on the labor market by giving them high quality education. This is basic reason why the next 35 years have to be seen as a window of opportunity for Turkey.
The extent t o which the prospective growth of the working population will be reflected in Turkey’s economic growth ultimately depends on two factors. The first of these is that those individuals reaching working age should not be left economically idle; the second is that individuals joining the labor market must possess the qualities needed for creation of innovation and added value.
Economic idleness is a very serious problem which in Turkey we are finding it difficult to overcome, particularly with regard to the young and the female populations. In the last twenty years, the population aged between 25 and 64 has grown by 40%, rising from 21 million to 36 million. But during this period there was no improvement in the rate of employment for 20-24 year olds and 25-29 year olds. In 1990, this stood at 51% but by 2010, it had fallen to 43%. In addition to that, women’s involvement in economic life has reached a particularly striking situation. In 1990 the number of women of working age in employment was 31.1%, but in 2010 that proportion had fallen to 24%.
If people without jobs today are not included in the labor market because they are receiving an education, it might then be claimed that the low employment rates and the fall in the percentage in employment are not a cause for anxiety. This is because it might be claimed that as more highly educated people would be entering the labor market in the future, productivity would consequently be higher. But a significant proportion of Turkey’s young people are bothunemployed and also not continuing with their education. Of people in Turkey aged between 15 and 24, 30% are neither obtaining work experience nor accumulating any academic or professional skills in the educational system. This, it must be emphasized, is double the average figure for the European Union. Furthermore youth unemployment varies dramatically according to sex and geographical regions. For example more than 70% of the 18 to 24 year old female population of south east Anatolia is neither in work nor receiving education. This indicates that in the next few years, as the population grows, parallel to it he risk will also grow of greater inequality and social unrest.
If a substantial proportion of young people are both working and studying, this is to be directly correlated with the quality of education. The quality of the education is not just determined by the accumulated capital of young people in schools but also by whether or not they complete the course or go on to a higher level of education. Then there is the fact the skills which individuals acquire within the educational system have an important influence on their decisions about entering the labor market and their future in it. This means that youth unemployment must be considered jointly with the quality of educational services in Turkey. Viewed against an international perspective, we can see that Turkey has a lot of catching up to do. The 2009 PISA results show that among the OECD countries Turkey’s 15 year old students share the bottom place with their Mexican counterparts and that 42% of 15-year old Turkish students do not possess even basic mathematical skills. In addition to that, the 2011 TIMMSS results show that only 7% of 8th grade students in Turkey are at an advanced level in mathematics, while Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, and Japan head the league table. This group of countries has succeeded in bringing nearly 50% of 8th grade students to advanced levels in mathematics.
A body of academic research has been developed which researches into the extent to which indicators of the quality of education like PISA and TIMMSS explain differences in economic development between countries. Its findings demonstrate quite plainly that the quality of education affects economic development directly and very strongly. Consequently as the population of working age in Turkey is going to rise in the years ahead, there is a need to accelerate without delay political initiatives to boost the quality of education and to offer high quality educational facilities to everybody within a just framework. Supplementary to this, there is also a need for more research will help us to understand the roots of these problems in order to design policies which will reduce youth unemployment in Turkey and in particular help women to participate in the workforce. Steps taken in this direction will assist making the workforce economically active, innovative, and able to create high value-added in the years ahead. If more individuals are thus made more dependent on the public welfare system in this way, risks such as those of greater inequality or social disorders will subside.
*This piece was initially published in ANALIST Journal issued on January 2013.