SEYFETTİN GÜRSEL

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SEYFETTİN GÜRSEL
February 18, 2013, Monday

Female employment, as well as unemployment, greatly increased

At first glance, this title can seem quite contradictory. Well, it is not. The explanation is straightforward. Female unemployment increased significantly last year despite a sizable increase in female employment because the female labor force increased more than employment. Last Friday, the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) released the labor statistics for November 2012. From November 2011 to November 2012, the overall unemployment rate increased from 9.1 percent to 9.4 percent. During this time, the labor force increased by 1.225 million, while the growth in employment was limited to 1.024 million. Thus, almost 200,000 people were added to the ranks of the jobless in the last year.

The magnitude of the increase in the labor force, as well as employment, is quite impressive. But they are also puzzling since the economic growth rate for 2012 was limited to approximately 2.5 percent according to the last estimates. This growth rate is too low to create such a large number of jobs, but this is an issue to be discussed at another time. Let me just note that most of the explanation lies in the very high job creation capacity of the service sector, but the increase in employment is so high compared to the growth of value added in the service sector that we still have a puzzle on our hands.

However, I believe the most striking feature of the Turkish labor market regarding the evolution of employment and unemployment lies elsewhere. For unknown reasons, Turkish women began to have a greater taste for working. Indeed, women were a key part of both the increase in employment and unemployment last year. According to TurkStat, the annual increase (from November 2011 to November 2012) of the labor force was 1.225 million, while the growth in employment was 1.024 million as noted above. Now, the female labor force increased by 668,000 in the same period while the increase in female employment was limited to 497,000. The number of jobless women increased by 171,000 and the female unemployment rate rose to 11.6 percent from 10.4 percent a year ago.

To summarize, almost half of the total labor force increase, as well as that of employment, comprise women. The increase in the number of unemployed women constitutes 85 percent of the total increase in unemployment. The rates of growth of the female labor force and employment, at 8.6 and 7 percent, respectively, have never been seen before and they are absolutely astonishing. I would like to add that the male unemployment rate did not increase during the same period but slightly decreased from 8.6 percent to 8.5 percent. So, the gap between male and female unemployment widened even further.

Some people believe that agricultural employment could have played a role in this astonishing increase in female employment, as this was the case in the recent past. Well, the figures show that agriculture made a marginal contribution to the increase in female employment; indeed, female employment in agriculture increased only by 14,000. Others might believe that this surprising increase in female employment could be due to women becoming self-employed. Well, they would still be mistaken. Female self-employment increased only by 24,000. Let me add that the increase in the number of women employed as unpaid family workers was limited to 61,000. So, out of 497,000 women added to the ranks of the employed last year, 405,000 were wage earners and most of them (80 percent) found jobs in the service sector.

What is happening? To be frank, I have no idea at the moment. We need more information before putting forward some explanations. We have to look more closely at the statistics, particularly at the socioeconomic characteristics of these women who made a spectacular entry into the labor force last year. To do this, we need the micro data of the labor statistics related to 2012, which is not yet available. However, some cross tabulations for November 2011 and 2012 reveal that out of the additional 405,000 wage-earning women, 47 percent have a tertiary-level education, 46 percent possess an education level less than eight years and the share of those with a high school education is only 7 percent. The last puzzle I can add to this puzzling issues is that 44 percent of these new female wage earners are aged between 30-39 while 47 percent of them are between 40-54. So, one could say that the taste for work seems to be a phenomenon concerning middle-aged women.

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