Women’s participation in Turkey’s labor force is comparatively low. Why is that, especially when Turkey has acted to increase women’s skills and education?
One reason is that more needs to be done to help women balance work and family life, particularly when it comes to care responsibilities. As of 2014, only 1-in-3 working age women were active in the labor market (33.6%)—nearly half the OECD average of 64%. According to the recent Demographic and Health Survey in Turkey, 1/3 of women report not working due to childcare responsibilities. Pre-primary school enrollment in Turkey is 29%--far less than OECD’s 81%, as well as countries with similar levels of GDP per capita, such as Chile, Mexico, Bulgaria, and Romania. Early childhood development and education is not only important to a child’s development, it also helps mothers combine family and work responsibilities and continue to participate in the labor force.
About 2.7 million Turkish children age 3-5 do not benefit from any form of center-based early childhood education and care, with a wider gap in terms of service availability in large urban areas (See Map 1 for the distribution of unserved children in Turkey). To reach the OECD average, approximately 42,388 new child care facilities would be needed at the current average rates of enrolment per facility in the country.
Our recent report “Supply and Demand for Child Care Services in Turkey” finds a mismatch between expectations and reality when it comes to child care in 3 key areas (i) accessibility and location, (ii) prices and willingness to pay and (iii) quality of services and expectations of quality. These are caused by a lack of public provision or financing to cover the demand and by high prices and low availability of private services, largely due to existing regulations and standards.
The location of existing services and their limited hours and days of operation are the first barrier. Center care in densely populated urban communities is limited by rental costs and the unavailability of space that meets regulations. For example, garden access is required for centers to be accredited. However, in densely populated urban centers like Beyoğlu, a district in central Istanbul (see map on Figure 1) access to communal green areas is already difficult, and access to private gardens more so. So although Beyoğlu is home to 20,093 children aged 0-5, the district only has 4 private child care centers with a total estimated capacity of 200 children.
Besides location, operating hours also matter. Less than one-fourth of the providers surveyed offer full day services and most of them are closed for summer holidays. The operating hours of child care services are not aligned with the needs of working mothers.
Because demand outstrips supply, the cost of care is more than what families are willing and able to pay. High barriers to market entry make it difficult for new providers to start up and provide affordable services to the middle class. Our report shows that given the high cost of setting up a center, at least 40-50 children need to be enrolled to recover set-up costs within a 3.8 year period. Smaller centers of 10-20 children will need an estimated 9.4 years to recover costs of investment, taking into account the average willingness to pay of households for child care services (See Figure 2). This makes it unfeasible for small private or community-led initiatives to flourish.
Current high prices for private care mean that lower income groups have less access. 60 percent of children in the top income decile attend preschool or center-based child care as opposed to only 17 percent in the bottom income decile. And for mothers from lower income groups, affordability is the most important factor in opting for child care.
Comprehensive policies that both expand supply and availability of child care while making it more affordable can be expected to have a high impact on women’s labor force participation in Turkey. This is not only because safe, quality and adequate care will free women’s time and allow them to engage in productive activities and to balance work and life better, but also because an expansion of the sector it is also likely to create employment opportunities for women. A viable and more flexible child care provision model, affordable for a larger group of the population, and based on the needs of mothers and fathers needs to be developed and tested in Turkey.
*This report is based on an analysis of new data collected from 603 child care service providers in 5 provinces across Turkey (Istanbul, Denizli, Eskisehir, Samsun and Gaziantep), as well as a household survey and focus groups discussions with working and non-working mothers and fathers of children ages 0-6 in districts selected, representing different socioeconomic groups in each of the Anatolian cities.