Turkey’s Income and Living Conditions Survey for 2008 was released at the end of July. As is always the case with these releases, and as the table at the foot of this article makes clear, it’s worth having a rummage around in the data to see what patterns may have been overlooked.
When the survey was published, considerable attention was paid to TurkStat’s headline announcement that the ratio between the incomes of the richest and poorest 20 per cent of society was unchanged at just above 8:1 between 2007 and 2008. A bit of international context helps to put this figure in perspective. Among OECD members, only Mexico has a less equal distribution of income than Turkey. In 2005, the ratio between the income of the top and bottom 10 per cent averaged 9:1 across the OECD. In Turkey the corresponding figure was 17:1.
Given this wide gap between high-income and low-income individuals in Turkey, and given also the massive variation in levels of economic activity in different parts of the country, one would expect to see sharp regional differences in poverty levels. In particular, one would expect to see much higher-than-average rates of poverty in the under-developed eastern and southeastern regions.
At first glance, therefore, it’s surprising to see that TurkStat’s assessment provides such a uniform picture of poverty across the country. (Use this link to see the relevant excel table from TurkStat’s release.) Out of 12 regions, ten are listed as having a poverty rate in a narrow range from 9.5 per cent to 13.7 per cent. And somewhat surreally, the poverty rate in the southeastern Anatolia region, at 12.7 per cent, is less than three percentage points higher than the rate in Istanbul.
The reason for this pattern is the way that TurkStat is defining poverty in the regions. Their basic definition is uncontroversial—an individual is said to be in poverty if their after-tax income is less than half of the median income. On a national basis, that gives a 2008 poverty threshold slightly higher than 3,000TL and a poverty rate of 16.7 per cent (ie, 16.7 per cent of people in Turkey had an after-tax income lower than the threshold figure).
But the regional TurkStat figures in the table linked to above don’t assess regional incomes against this national poverty threshold. Instead, they create a separate poverty threshold for each region based on a separate calculation of the median income of that region’s inhabitants. This move inevitably flattens out variations in the rate of poverty. An individual on a low income in the southeast of the country is obviously going to appear less poor if they are compared against the incomes of their regional peers rather than against the higher national average.
The table below highlights the extent of the discrepancy between TurkStat’s regionally ‘tailored’ measures of poverty and the measures that result when regional incomes are compared against the nationwide median income.
The first and second columns list TurkStat’s regional and national poverty thresholds, in Turkish liras. The third column lists the poverty rate in each region on the basis of the regional poverty threshold. The fourth column lists the poverty rate in each region on the basis of the national threshold. As far as I’m aware these fourth-column figures aren’t provided in TurkStat’s dataset. I’ve calculated them using a number of other figures that are provided there. They paint a very different picture of the rates of poverty that exist in certain parts of the country.
|Regional threshold (TL)||National threshold (TL)||Poverty rate (regional basis)||Poverty rate (national basis)|
|İstanbul||4 574||3 146||9.9||3.2|
|West Marmara||3 369||3 146||12.9||11.6|
|East Marmara||3 992||3 146||9.5||4.9|
|West Anatolia||3 596||3 146||12.7||9.0|
|Mediterrannean||2 597||3 146||10.0||16.6|
|Central Anatolia||2 867||3 146||12.7||16.3|
|West Black Sea||2 795||3 146||11.9||16.8|
|East Black Sea||3 318||3 146||13.7||11.6|
|North East Anatolia||2 189||3 146||17.7||34.0|
|Central East Anatolia||1 838||3 146||9.3||36.8|
|South East Anatolia||1 550||3 146||12.7||47.9|
Source: TurkStat, Income and Living Conditions Survey, 2008