Turkey’s Greatest Untapped Potential: Women

May 25, 2011

This report, “Female Labor Force Participation in Turkey: Trends, Determinants and Policy Framework” was carried out by Turkey’s State Planning Organization and the World Bank. It investigates why, on average, fewer women in Turkey hold or are looking for jobs than in the EU and the OECD, and why the proportion has been decreasing.

Main Findings

The reason why the share of women holding or seeking employment in Turkey has been decreasing over the past two decades is partly because women migrated from rural areas—where they engage in unpaid agriculture—to urban areas where most of them stay at home. Young men in rural areas are moving from agricultural employment into better-paid jobs in manufacturing and services. This shift away from subsistence agriculture causes a withdrawal of women from the labor force.

" I want to work to provide a better future for my kids. To send them to extra courses for the examinations and to help with their examinations at school, to gain my economic independence, in order to help my family and my husband. I want my kids to have the best education possible. So, I would like to use the money I earn for their school needs… "

Young Married Woman from Istanbul

Many women in Turkey would like to work, but they face a number of difficulties that prevent them from doing so. For example:

  • Women with low levels of education, especially in urban areas, only have access to jobs that offer low wages and harsh working conditions. This creates a lack of incentive to work now that the returns would be low both in terms of earnings and professional development; and
  • Social and cultural constraints prevent women from working, as does as the high cost of childcare.

Increasing the number of women who are actively employed in Turkey would reduce poverty, increase national economic output, and lead to improvements in social indicators like health and children’s education outcomes. If six or seven percent more Turkish women would start full-time jobs, this would reduce poverty by around 15 percent.

Policy Implications

The Government of Turkey recently introduced a program that subsidizes employers’ social security contributions for newly hired women for up to five years.

The government can also encourage more women to work by:

  • Creating job opportunities for first time job seekers;
  • Providing affordable childcare; and
  • Sustaining investments in education.