Excerpt of article originally published under the title, "Uncle Tayyip's 'graying Turkey' vs. A more Kurdish Turkey."
Much to the chagrin of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey's fertility rate has continued to decline since the ruling AKP came to power.
A few years ago, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched his "at-least-three-kids-for-every-household" campaign, which he still passionately advocates. But things are not moving as he wishes. The total fertility rate in Turkey dropped from 4.33 in 1978 to 2.26 in 2013. Unsurprisingly, it currently stands at 3.76 for women with no education and at 1.66 for women with high school or higher degrees.
"Uncle Tayyip" may hope for a Turkey bigger than China, but Turkey's population is forecast to hit (merely!) 93.4 million in 2050. Turkey's median age will rise from 30.7 in 2014 [when half of Turkey's population is under 30] to 40.2 in 2050 [when the total fertility rate will further fall to 1.8]. In the not-so-distant future, the 65+ population will account for one-fifth of the entire population. And according to the UNDP, the 15-49 age group in Turkey will begin to decline as early as 2020, three years before the centenary of the republic.
Studies find a strong correlation between improvement in female education and lower fertility rates.
In contrast, any map of Turkish demographics would produce darker colors marking higher fertility rates in the country's Kurdish areas compared to much lighter colors elsewhere. Presently, the total fertility rate in eastern and southeastern (Kurdish-speaking) Turkey is at 3.41, compared to 1.93 in the western (Turkish-speaking) parts.
Academic studies find a strong correlation between improvements in female education and lower fertility rates. Mr. Erdoğan is so keen on "at-least-three-kids per family" that he consistently advocates imam schools for both male and females – although there are no female imams in Islam. If he can reverse rising education levels for Turkish girls, then he can also reverse the decline in fertility rates.
Turkish demographics tell us one more thing. Even if Turkey's pro-Kurdish party fails to enter parliament on June 7 because of the 10 percent national threshold, it definitely will in the next elections. Just like less-educated (and more devout) Turks grew in number and percentages over the past decades and brought Mr. Erdoğan to power simply by combining demographics and the ballot box, the Kurds may emerge as Mr. Erdoğan's nightmare in the not-too-distant future, simply by hitting his perfect political machine with the same weapon.
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a columnist for the Turkish daily Hürriyet and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.