In Turkey, there is not much reason to save since the state is quite generous on social security and retirement. Education is mostly free, and anyone can get retirement benefits by becoming part of the social security system. That's why we have to find ways to save.
One of the mechanisms to limit the deficits in the long run is to increase the employment base, and we have to find ways to augment the income of families. And when we talk about more income and saving, that often means more female labor force participation. Here is why.
Turkey is a confusing country, at the crossroads of civilizations. When we look at female participation in the workforce, it is extremely low compared to advanced economies. It is also lower than other emerging economies comparable to Turkey in many respects. According to Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) data, the female labor force participation rate was 23.5 percent in 2009. This is as compared with 61 percent in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and 64 percent in the European Union. Even more interesting is that this rate was 34.3 percent in Turkey in 1988. So what's wrong and why don't Turkish women work?
Scholars have studied this puzzle extensively, and the main reasons they have come up with to explain the low rate concern education, urbanization, marital status and cultural factors.
Education often increases the chance of finding a job that can accommodate the preservation of the social and cultural duties of women. The statistics are quite clear on this front: 73 percent of women with a university degree participate in the workforce, while only 3 percent of women who are primary school graduates do so. So one can easily identify the primary cause of low workforce participation as a lack of sufficient education.
Then the second question arises. Women's literacy has increased considerably over the last 20 years, from 66.1 percent to 80.4 percent in Turkey. Schooling for girls in rural areas has improved, contributing to better education statistics for Turkey. Furthermore, the urban population has increased, which also increases the years of schooling. The proportion of women with a university degree has increased from 1.8 percent to 5.8 percent. So why has the rate of participation in the workforce been decreasing over the same two decades?
The main reason is a decreasing rural population and urbanization. How so? Women are actively involved in agriculture and farming. That's why these industries, in which unskilled women can participate, improve workforce participation. Turkey experiences high migration from villages to cities, and hence urbanization; the same unskilled women may choose to stay at home and raise kids, or just do housework. So they give up looking for jobs and drop out of the labor force. There is also financial motivation for this. Childcare often costs more than is paid by the minimum wage, which leaves little opportunity for unskilled mothers to go out to work in urban areas. What I'm saying is workforce participation is decreasing in part due to urbanization. The participation of women in the workforce in urban areas has not declined over the past 20 years, but it is still very low by international standards.
Another interesting observation is the effect of marital status on workforce participation. Workforce participation among women decreases considerably after marriage. Understandably, women may choose to raise their children themselves, rather than working and putting their children into daycare.
Another reason women may leave the workforce is to take care of the elderly, parents mostly, who cannot take good care of themselves. Of course, there are social and cultural motivations behind this, too. It is always a shame for kids to leave the care of their elderly parents to government facilities.
An interesting survey undertaken by Professor Meltem Aran in 2009 shows that 65 percent of women in cities did not work that year because they were taking care of their own children. Only 7 percent reported not working due to the disapproval of their husband. Therefore, increasing childcare opportunities may increase workforce participation, and this may be another social policy, after education, capable of bolstering rates of workforce participation.