Turkish Birth Rates

 

On to the next topic from my assignment desk–and thank you again for all those interesting questions. I assume the question was prompted by Spengler’s surmise that Turkey’s demography is making Erdoğan loopy:

A generation from now, Turkey will cease to exist in its present form. The ratio of Turks to Kurds today (defined by cradle tongue) is about 4:1, but Turks have 1.5 children on average, while Kurds have 4.5. In little over a generation, Kurds will comprise half the military-age population of Anatolia. After decades of civil war and 40,000 casualties, Turkey’s Kurdish problem is as vivid as ever.

Erdogan, like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is inherently incapable of rationality. Turks and Persians both show a total fertility rate of 1.5, which portends national disaster–as both leaders have said repeatedly in public. In Turkey, Iran, and almost everywhere in the Muslim world, women with a high school (let alone university education) stop having children. Paradoxically, the best-educated populations–Tunisia, Algeria, Turkey and Iran–have the same fertility rate as the Europeans. Demographically, the Muslim world has passed from childhood to senescence without ever having reached adulthood.

What’s the rational self-interest of a doomed culture? Rather than return to the Western fold, Turkey is likely to become more and more erratic. 

According to the OECD, Turkey’s fertility rate was about 3.9 in 1984, trailing only Mexico’s fertility rate of 4.3 percent. Since then, it’s followed the normal developmental trajectory, dropping to 2.12 percent–a number known as the replacement rate, the number required for population stability. But the downward trend is of course worrying, particularly since it’s still coupled with alarmingly high infant mortality, 17 per 1,000 births, the highest in the OECD. Erdoğan has called upon women to have at least three children, and has even suggested, echoing Mussolini, that the government will give a prize to women who do. 

Now, accurate statistics about the Kurdish birth rate are hard to come by, because accurate statistics about Turkey are hard to come by–almost all the statistics you read about its economy, say, or its crime rate turn out to be, on closer inspection, plagued with obvious methodological problems in data-gathering, and often politicized. This issue in particular has been seized upon both by panicked Turkish nationalists and excessively optimistic Kurdish nationalists. It is often said that the Kurdish birth rate is much higher–four times higher is an oft-cited figure–but I’ve never seen a study of this that was not produced by someone with a distinct political motive for producing it. I would guess that birth rates are correlated not so much with ethnicity as with class: Turks who live in poverty in the rural southeast (who are mostly Kurds) probably have a much higher birth rate; as they urbanize and move into the middle class–which many have and continue to do–the birth rate probably norms down.

My overall prediction is that Turkey will probably follow a European development model, more or less. The main reason the AKP keeps winning elections is not that they’re a religious party. It’s because they provide handouts and goodies. They’re a social-welfare party. The demand for this will keep rising. If the economy keeps growing (unclear whether it can, given the state of the global economy), they’ll pump more and more money into the southeast to keep it sweet and try to buy off the Kurds. As we all know, you can only do this for so long. Their economic policy doesn’t really focus on the things you need to have to be competitive once you move past the basket-case stage of economic development: this country isn’t going to be a center of innovation in hi-tech any time soon. The education system is lousy. Economic risk-taking isn’t encouraged. The legal system doesn’t work. 

I suspect, though, that if they can solve these problems well enough to keep growth fairly steady over the next decade, we’ll see a real diminution of interest in all things Islamic. My observation about this so-called rising Muslim bourgeoisie is that they’re way more interested in toys–nice cars, plasma TVs, shopping–than God. Remember, just a generation ago, this stuff was completely out of their reach. They’re like kids in a candy store with it now. And just as the real Islamists feared, consumerism is corrupting to the religious impulse. A lot of the Kemalist/AKP divide is just identity politics: The headscarf is often less about real religiosity and more about showing that you’re in with the new power crowd. Underneath it? All the usual anxiety and doubt about faith and God. I actually predict a new, deeper secularization of society in the long run. Religiosity will come to be associated with the AKP, which in turn–like the Catholic Church in France–will come to be associated with corruption. It will be rejected and followed by a hollowing-out of faith, I suspect. The politicization of religion is usually corrosive to religion itself. But this is in the long run. In the short term, we just have to hope that Turkey doesn’t march itself into some kind of disaster. 

This post is dedicated to Ricochet member Mert Nomer and his wife Vera, who have just found out that they are expecting a baby girl–their firstborn–in February. Congratulations, Mert and Vera!

There are 19 comments.

  1. Member
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    It’s no wonder that the infant mortality rate is so high, if the accompanying photo is an accurate representation of a typical Turkish baby bath. Water up to the neck?? Are they new at this?

    • #1
    • September 22, 2011 at 6:24 am
    • Like
  2. Inactive

    Thank you Claire for the informative post, keep them coming, very interesting reading!

    • #2
    • September 22, 2011 at 6:33 am
    • Like
  3. Contributor

    Claire, this sounds right. I had a discussion twenty-five years ago with a State Department official in which I suggested that someday there would appear in Turkey something along the lines of the Christian Democratic parties in Italy and Germany and that it would inadvertently ease the trend towards secularization by legitimizing in the eyes of Muslims the secular state. Erdogan may be the man.

    It would be very interesting to know what the demographic trends really are, however. The birthrate in Turkey when I lived there — in the 1980s — was very high. It is clearly not as high now. But where does it really stand?

    • #3
    • September 22, 2011 at 7:01 am
    • Like
  4. Contributor
    Foxman: I know that ethnic Turks did not originate in Turkey, but in Turkmenistan. What I don’t know is what people or peoples populated what 100 years ago was called Asia Minor and what has become of them. Can anybody help me? · Sep 22 at 12:50am

    A century ago, there were four populations in Asia Minor of considerable size — Armenians in the cities and in the east near Lake Van; Greeks in the cities, along the Black Sea coast, in Cappadocia, and along the western and southern coasts; Kurds, mainly in the east; and Turks, mostly in the countryside. World War I and its aftermath altered things a lot.

    • #4
    • September 22, 2011 at 7:04 am
    • Like
  5. Inactive

    So the Kurd stats curdle with turkish ink , like their blood with turkish lead.

    • #5
    • September 22, 2011 at 8:44 am
    • Like
  6. Inactive

    Huh. Apologies but excellent post.

    You could be wrong about….”we’ll see a real diminution of interest in all things Islamic,” or you could be dead on right.

    Prosperity, growth – they have a way of changing minds.

    • #6
    • September 22, 2011 at 8:57 am
    • Like
  7. Inactive

    A fascinating post, especially as a comparison with Mark Steyn’s America Alone. Perhaps there is hope that Muslim populations will respond as western/Christian populations have to middle class emergence. At least Erdogan recognizes that demographic decline is a real problem and that baby-making is the solution. Europe hasn’t caught on to that yet, despite their current situation and China’s impending implosion.

    -E

    • #7
    • September 22, 2011 at 9:13 am
    • Like
  8. Inactive
    etoiledunord: . How many generations are we Europeans away from complete barbarism? · Sep 21 at 9:24pm

    In The Sex Lives of Cannibals, the author, Maarten Troost, speaks of the time he spent in the former Yugoslavia shortly after its breakup. He said that he was frightened by how thin the line was between civilization and barbarism and this has bothered him ever since.

    It does not take generations to go from civilization to barbarism; it can happen in months, maybe even days.

    • #8
    • September 22, 2011 at 9:17 am
    • Like
  9. Inactive

    I don’t think the abandonment of the Catholic Church in France stems mostly from Church corruption. I think it stems more from the Church’s demands on lay behavior. They (laypeople) see only the inconvenience of obedience, and not the grace obtained by it. The moral failures of Catholic clerics have always been on display. There’s always been corruption of some kind or another. As they say, the spiritual riches of the Catholic Church are carried to the world in fragile earthen vessels. How many generations are we Europeans away from complete barbarism? Not many. Some less than others.

    • #9
    • September 22, 2011 at 9:24 am
    • Like
  10. Member

    So Turkey is now where America was right before the baby boom culturally. Once the fruits of prosperity become abundant, and a generation of Turks is born knowing only suburban life filled with convenience, the iron laws of their prophet will harsh their mellows too much and they will turn away.

    • #10
    • September 22, 2011 at 9:27 am
    • Like
  11. Inactive

    Ed G, my son (half-Turkish) has a similar bath tub. It’s perfectly safe and he loves it.

    • #11
    • September 22, 2011 at 9:58 am
    • Like
  12. Member

    But it’s the short run we have to worry about with Erdogan’s scimitar waving at Israel — as well as Cyprus and Greece — to build his Islamist following across North Africa,

    Barry Rubin has it about right, I think. The challenge is to “rein in an increasingly anti-American, reckless, pro-Islamist government [led by Erdogan] as it turns one of America’s most important allies into one of its most dangerous adversaries.”

    • #12
    • September 22, 2011 at 10:22 am
    • Like
  13. Inactive

    I don’t know demographics from a hole in the ground. But that photo just makes me smile.

    • #13
    • September 22, 2011 at 10:43 am
    • Like
  14. Member

    An insightfull post to be sure. Thank You.

    • #14
    • September 22, 2011 at 10:44 am
    • Like
  15. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author
    Foxman
    etoiledunord: . How many generations are we Europeans away from complete barbarism? · Sep 21 at 9:24pm
    In The Sex Lives of Cannibals, the author, Maarten Troost, speaks of the time he spent in the former Yugoslavia shortly after its breakup.

    I loved that book.

    • #15
    • September 22, 2011 at 11:07 am
    • Like
  16. Inactive

    I know that ethnic Turks did not originate in Turkey, but in Turkmenistan. What I don’t know is what people or peoples populated what 100 years ago was called Asia Minor and what has become of them. Can anybody help me?

    • #16
    • September 22, 2011 at 12:50 pm
    • Like
  17. Inactive
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    Foxman
    etoiledunord: . How many generations are we Europeans away from complete barbarism? · Sep 21 at 9:24pm

    In The Sex Lives of Cannibals, the author, Maarten Troost, speaks of the time he spent in the former Yugoslavia shortly after its breakup.

    I loved that book. · Sep 22 at 11:07am

    Did you ever go back and read how they could not take Washington DC after Kiribati?

    • #17
    • September 23, 2011 at 1:55 am
    • Like
  18. Member
    Lt Colonel Don: Ed G, my son (half-Turkish) has a similar bath tub. It’s perfectly safe and he loves it. · Sep 22 at 9:58am

    Oops! I didn’t mean to be crude or morbid. I’m sure it is safe, proper supervision being the controlling factor. I’m also sure, though, that safety statistics aside, it would never fly with any of the mothers in my family.

    • #18
    • September 23, 2011 at 2:16 am
    • Like
  19. Member

    Country comparison, total fertility rate. Turkey = blue

    http://www.indexmundi.com/g/r.aspx?c=tu&v=31

    Total fertility rate (children born/woman), Turkey, 2000-2011

    http://www.indexmundi.com/g/g.aspx?c=tu&v=31

    Thematic Map > Total fertility rate – World (map is interactive)

    http://www.indexmundi.com/map/?v=31

    • #19
    • September 23, 2011 at 3:20 am
    • Like