Economy Minister Mehmet Şimşek last month said "especially women" are contributing to the increasing labor force and rising unemployment, but a study published this week by Bahçeşehir University casts doubt on his assertion.
According to the university’s Center for Economic and Social Research, or BETAM, women who are newly entering the labor force are not contributing more to unemployment than men.
"Labor market indicators show that there is another story behind the increasing unemployment," said Dr. Gökçe Kolasin, one of the authors of the study, which says women's employment is actually rising despite an overall decrease in employment rates. "As of December 2008, annual growth in nonagricultural female employment has reached 9 percent," the study said. "Such growth is extraordinary during a period of crisis."
Households often try to compensate for economic insecurity by having more household members seek work. For example, if a husband loses his job or is worried he might, often the wife will try to find work, something she might not chose to do in more secure times. Economists have referred to this phenomenon as the "added worker effect." And though the BETAM study calls the increase of women's participation in the labor force an "important factor" in increased unemployment rates, it concludes that "the rising unemployment rate cannot be explained solely by the recent increase in female labor force participation, which has also been accompanied by an increase in female employment."
Between December 2007 and December 2008, 528,000 men and 500,000 women entered the labor market, according to figures published in the BETAM study. During the same period 160,000 men lost their jobs, while 249,000 women found jobs. In percentage terms, the male nonagricultural labor force increased by 4 percent, while employment for those men decreased by 1 percent.
However, the female nonagricultural labor force increased by 14 percent while employment for those women increased by 9 percent.
Women unfairly blamed
"A lot of men are losing their jobs, and the women who enter the market can find jobs," said Kolasin.
"So, it is very important to underline the fact that the bulk of the unemployed come from those males who lose their jobs. It is, I think, even more important not to point at women entering the labor market when explaining an increase in unemployment rates. As I have said before, women do not work in Turkey."
According to figures published by Eurostat, only 26 percent of Turkish women of working age participated in the labor force in 2007, compared to Italy's 51 percent, Greece's 55 percent and Spain's 61 percent. Such a low figure for Turkey means there are many women available to enter the labor market if economic conditions require it. In contrast, Sweden, where 77 percent of women participate in the labor market, does not have this same "reserve" of potential female labor.
"There is a general attitude in Turkey against women working," says Dr. Kolasin. "Anything that encourages them to enter the labor market should be supported."
"Instead of pointing to female labor force participation when explaining rising unemployment rates, policy makers should focus on the policies aimed at increasing female labor force participation in the medium and in the long run," the study said. Dr. Kolasin is continuing to research why women are finding jobs and men aren't. Early research suggests that these women are not competing with men over the same jobs.
"A non-negligible part of the women who have entered the labor force recently work in the informal sector," Kolaşin said.
"It looks like a majority of women are entering the labor market through self-employment. They either start working as cleaning ladies, or they start baking things at home and selling them, etc.
The increase in the number employed in the services sector seems important. It might be that the government is employing women, but there is no way to tell whether this is the case, since the government does not release any statistics regarding the number of civil servants," he said.
"These figures show that unskilled male employment suffers severely during the crisis period. Given that informality is a widespread phenomenon among the unskilled labor force, it is not surprising that the employment collapse concentrates on this segment where the firing costs are close to null," the report read.
According to the study, "less educated men" represent 62 percent of the total increase in unemployment, and that "rising unemployment and decreasing employment among males with at most a high school degree constitute the driving force behind the deterioration in the labor market indicators."