politics : culture : economics

One in seven Turks works for free

In Economy on November 18, 2010 at 2:29 pm

At the end of last week, TurkStat published its labour market data for the third quarter of 2010. The headline numbers continue to improve. While Turkey’s official unemployment rate remains stubbornly high at 11.4 per cent, it is on a clear downward trend. A year ago it was two percentage points higher at 13.4 per cent. (There are some seasonal factors at play in these numbers. On a seasonally adjusted basis, the corresponding figures are 12.0 per cent for the third quarter of 2010 and 14.1 per cent for the same period in 2009.)

This drop in the unemployment rate reflects strong levels of job creation. In the year to the third quarter of 2010, the number of people working in Turkey increased by 1,087,000, pushing the total size of the workforce up to 23,195,000.

People tend to point to Turkey’s relatively high levels of GDP growth as the clearest indicator of the pace at which the country’s economy is developing. But we can see aspects of this development in the changing profile of the labour market too. Ten years ago, agriculture accounted for 39.1 per cent of all jobs in Turkey, while the services sector (which tends to be larger in more developed economies) accounted for 37.2 per cent. According to the recently released third-quarter data, however, these figures have changed significantly during the intervening years. The services sector now accounts for 47.2 per cent of all jobs in Turkey, while the agricultural share of employment has dropped to 26.6 per cent.

But we shouldn’t get overexcited about the modernisation of Turkey’s labour market. In some respects it still has a huge amount of developing to do. I have written here before about low levels of female labour force participation. Another indicator of Turkey’s underdevelopment relative to the more advanced economies it seeks to emulate is the proportion of total employment in the country that is accounted for by unpaid labour.

In the third quarter of this year, 15.0 per cent of Turkey’s workers were doing unpaid family work. Typically, this consists of agricultural work performed by women. Accordingly, the 15.0 per cent economy-wide figure masks a huge divergence in the rates that apply for men (5.9 per cent) and women (a shocking 37.8 per cent).

To put Turkey’s rate of unpaid labour in an international context we need to go back to the second quarter of 2010, a period for which EU-wide data are available from Eurostat. During that period, the Turkish proportion of unpaid family work was 13.8 per cent, fully nine times higher than the EU average of 1.5 per cent. If we compare the Turkish rate not with the EU average, but with the bloc’s more developed economies, then the gap is wider still. In Germany, for instance, just 0.4 per cent of the workforce is engaged in unpaid family work.

These discrepancies are illustrated in the chart below, which highlights the fact that Turkey has a greater proportion of unpaid workers than any of the other countries for which Eurostat provides data.

Unpaid family work as % of total employment, Q2 2010

My second chart plots changes in Turkey’s proportion of unpaid workers over the past decade. (The results for 2010 are based on the first nine months of the year.) The yellow line at the top of the chart reflects changes in the total number of people in employment, and should be read against the scale on the chart’s right-hand side. The green and blue bars illustrate the percentage of total employment that was paid and unpaid, respectively, each year.

Paid and unpaid employment in Turkey, 2000-10

While there’s a clear downward trend in the level of unpaid work over the course of the decade, much of this is accounted for by a sharp downward jump in 2004-05, when the percentage of unpaid family work fell from 19.8 per cent to 14.3 per cent. However, it is unlikely that this sudden shift reflects real changes in Turkish working patterns. It is more likely to reflect methodological changes: during 2004-05 TurkStat altered the way it compiles its labour force figures, in order to harmonise them with EU standards. In 2006 and 2007 there were modest declines in the proportion of unpaid family work, but more recently that progress has been almost entirely reversed. In 2008, the rate was unchanged at 12.6 per cent. Since then, however, it has been increasing, rising to 13.4 per cent in 2009 and to 13.8 per cent in the first nine months of this year.

  1. Good work. I suppose the high incidence of unpaid family work relative to other European countries is partly a reflection of the social role Turks see fit for women.

    What practical steps can be taken to improve the situation?

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