• Turkey faces ‘existential threat’ of declining population
  • Decrease comes despite new laws to encourage procreation

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s campaign to ensure sustainable economic growth by nurturing a larger and younger population faces a grave threat: a low birth rate.

“We are below the population’s replacement rate of 2.1,” Erdogan said after a cabinet meeting late Monday. “Frankly, this is an existential threat, a disaster for Turkey.”

Erdogan, who has long campaigned for Turkish women to have at least three children — preferably as many as five — was alarmed when the official birth rate declined to 1.51 last year from 2.38 in 2001. The decrease comes despite new laws to encourage people to marry earlier and procreate more, including low-interest loans for newlyweds. The government introduced early retirement with tax breaks for mothers with three offspring, despite criticism over lower participation of women in the workforce.

“The current situation is no longer tolerable for our country,” said Erdogan. “We need to realize that population is our greatest strength as a nation and we will be more determined on this issue.”

Turkey’s decline in working-age population and falling birth rate isn’t as extreme as many developed countries, yet still works against Erdogan’s ambition to grow the economy with the help of a young workforce. A higher birth rate in Turkey would add to the population, expanding labor’s contribution to potential gross domestic product over decades to come, according to Bloomberg Economics.

Erdogan’s views on gender-related matters are sometimes treated with suspicion because of positions he’s taken in the past, such as introducing a law that restricts access to Cesarean sections on the basis they reduce fertility. He has also criticized contraception.

Ethnic Factor

Erdogan may be concerned about Turkey’s ethnic demographics. Women in the largely Kurdish southeast, where separatist militants have been fighting for autonomy on and off since 1984, have an average of 2.37 children, higher than the national figure of 1.51, according to 2023 figures by the state statistics institute.

Syrian refugees have the highest birthrate of more than five in Turkey, according to a research by Ankara-based Hacettepe University. Several Turkish lawmakers have expressed concern that a growing Syrian population poses a serious demographic challenge.

Written by:  — With assistance from Beril Akman @Bloomberg