Don’t lose sight of the forest over the trees

Don’t lose sight of the forest over the trees

I was in Washington, D.C. this week. Having attended multiple panels on the region, I heard so many negative things about the current state of affairs in Turkey. The word “vexation” was especially used many times with reference to Turkey. Speaking to concerned observers, I just pointed out the latest survey results of Turkish Statistics Institution (TUİK). The institution has announced just yesterday that the fertility rate among Turkish women in 2015 has declined to 2.14. In 2016, the expectation is for this rate to further decline to 2.1. 

What does that mean? Turkey’s population will never reach 100 million, that’s what it means, provided that all the Syrian population does not decide to come to Turkey, of course. The rate of 2.1 is the magical rate that can stabilize your total population. It’s called the “sub-replacement fertility threshold;” anything below 2.1 and each generation becomes less populous than the previous one. “What does that signify?” you may ask. This trend displays that despite all the insistent political rhetoric, ideological campaigns and fiscal incentives for 3 children per woman, not much is happening. Sometimes it is better to zoom out and look at the long view. Let me tell you what I see when I look at this figure.

When I was born in the early 1960s, Turkey was a sleepy agrarian country. Urbanization rate was around 30 percent and the fertility rate was around 6.3. Triple that of our day, mind you. Around that time, the fertility rate in Korea was also around 6.2, whereas Swedish fertility rate was as low as 2.2. What happened in the following decades? Korea converged towards the Swedish fertility rate and declined to 2.2 average births per woman in 1983 and Turkey did so in 2005. 

So, there is an ongoing convergence process towards advanced industrial democracies when it comes to the fertility rates of women. In turn, this signifies a considerable change in the social structure and lifestyles of Turks and Koreans. Rising urbanization and the resulting change in mode of production is the culprit. People migrated to the cities; women increasingly participated in the labor force and fertility rates declined. It occurred in Turkey as it should be expected in any modern society. Fertility rate in Turkey was 6.3 in 1961, declined to 4.2 in 1981, and is now 2.1 in 2015. Female labor force participation rate in Turkey is still as low as 30 percent, compared to Sweden’s 60 percent, mind you. So don’t be surprised to see further convergence of fertility rates as more women enter the labor force in Turkey.

You may find Turkey irritating sometimes. You may find things rather noisy and chaotic. The country’s ups and downs may vex you.  But just do not lose sight of the whole forest as you obsess about a few trees.

Sometimes zooming out is necessary to get a better understanding of the bigger picture, if you ask me.

When looking at Turkey, these are the times to zoom out. The country is still modernizing and normalizing, no matter what.  To start with, Turkey’s population will never reach 100 million. Period.