How `social´ is


Social spending in Turkey: 'growth to limits'?

In the previous blog entry, we depicted the remarkable increase in social spending in Turkey since the 1950s. We traced this to the introduction and implementation of key social security programs, such as pension, health and work accident insurance. The welfare effort of the Turkish state increased from 1 per cent of the gross domestic product in the early 1950s to more than 10 per cent in the early 2010s. This experience mirrors the experience of classic welfare states in Western Europe and North America, in which public social spending increased phenomenally after the introduction of social security programmes since the late 19th century (Lindert 2004).

Yet, upon closer examination, the data on welfare effort, as visualized in the Figure, paints a more complex picture. Welfare effort did not increase steadily, but witnessed periodic downturns, in the early 1950s, early 1970s, early 1980s and early 1990s. Moreover, for the years after the global economic crisis in 2009, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the statistical office of the European Union (Eurostat) paint divergent pictures. While the OECD sees social spending recovering after a decrease in 2010-2011, Eurostat data points to a continued decrease after 2009. This decrease apparently occurred despite many new social policies promoted by the government in recent years. The Eurostat data raises the question whether the long increase in welfare effort has come to an end.

In terms of method, the divergence of the figures underlines the importance of using data with diligence and a critical eye. Much of the research project "How 'social' is Turkey? Turkey's social security system in a European context" is devoted to a thorough-going work on the data.

Sources: Zöllner 1963; various editions of the ILO's Cost of Social Security; OECD.Stat (, accessed 28.03.2018) and Eurostat data on social protection (, accessed 28.03.2018).

For Western Europe and North America, comparative welfare state research came to the conclusion that the long rise of welfare effort experienced since the late 19th century came to a halt in the 1970s. This thesis was coined 'Growth to Limits' (Flora 1986). Many researchers argued that in the 'age of austerity', with severe economic crises and a re-orientation of economic policy, the welfare state would be cut back. Yet, others believed that instead of wholesale retrenchment, welfare states in the West would be 're-calibrated' (Pierson 2011): retrenchment would occur in some policy areas (e.g. unemployment insurance) while other policies (e.g. childcare) would expand. Despite significant cutbacks in some countries in the last decades, there seems to be a case for the recalibration thesis. Yet other authors have argued that much of retrenchment is taking place in a less visible, incremental way (Thelen and Streeck 2005). Still, by and large public social spending in Western welfare states has not been declining, measured as share in gross domestic product.

The question arises if the recent stagnation of public social spending in Turkey can be explained along the lines of the earlier finding of 'Growth to Limits' in Western welfare states. Has Turkey's amazing expansion of social spending already ended, with social policy entering a period of re-calibration and 'Growth to Limits'? If so, this would mean that Turkey has moved closer to Western welfare states, but stagnates?at least in terms of money spent?at a level which is far removed from advanced welfare states. The German welfare state, for example, spends more than twice on social policy. Or are the Eurostat figures even indicating a decline of social spending in Turkey? It waits to be seen how social legislation and social spending will develop in the next years.


Flora P (1986) Growth to Limits: The Western European welfare states since World War II. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Lindert PH (2004) Growing public: Social spending and economic growth since the eighteenth century. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Pierson P (2011) The welfare state over the very long run. Bremen: Zentrum für Sozialpolitik Universität Bremen.

Thelen KA and Streeck W (2005) Beyond continuity: Institutional change in advanced political economies. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.