How `social´ is


Unnoticed change: massive increase in public social spending in Turkey

Since the 2000s, political changes in Turkey have attracted broad media attention in Germany and in other countries. But one most remarkable change has gone unnoticed: the amazing increase in public social expenditure. Successive Turkish governments have been spending more and more money on social policy. In this respect, Turkey is moving closer to Western welfare states.

The story of social policy in Turkey is a story of increasing social expenditure, especially since 1990 - notwithstanding many political changes, significant re-orientations of economic policy, as well as structural adjustment reforms that occurred during these decades. Over the long term, welfare effort - conceptualized as public spending on social policy as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) - increased more than ten-fold, from around 1 percent of GDP in the early 1950s, when the first laws on pension and sickness insurance for private sector employees were implemented, to more than 10 percent in the early 2010s. Thus, the state spends ever more on pensions, health, unemployment, social assistance and other social policies.

In academic research on welfare states, Turkey has remained 'virtually invisible' (Kim 2015). Therefore, it is no surprise that the sustained growth in welfare effort has not been noticed by many scholars. Yet, Turkey's experience mirrors developments that early comparative researchers diagnosed for the classic welfare states in Western Europe and North America. With the creation of modern social security systems, welfare effort in these countries massively increased from around 1 percent in the late 19th century to 20-30 percent in the late 20th century (Flora and Heidenheimer 1981; Lindert 2005). Germany is among the biggest spenders, spending almost a third of its GDP on social policy. It seems that with a time-lag of roughly two generations, the story of Western welfare states is being repeated in the case of Turkey. From 1945 onwards, the state gradually passed and implemented laws on work accident (1945), pension (1949), health and maternity (1950) and unemployment insurance (1999), and as a result public social spending increased (Özbek 2004).

To explore in more detail how public social expenditures in Turkey have developed over the last decades, the research project 'How "social" is Turkey? Turkey's social security system in a European context' has compiled data from the three most reliable sources of data on comparative public social spending, from three international organizations: the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the statistical office of the European Union (Eurostat). The data sets of these organizations cover different time periods and use slightly different methodologies, which lead to some differences in the data. Yet, the overall trend is unequivocal: the amount that the state spends on social policies has massively increased in Turkey. The Figure visualizes the phenomenal growth in welfare effort since 1949.

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).



Flora P and Heidenheimer AJ (1981) The Development of welfare states in Europe and America. New Brunswick: Transaction Books.

Kim K-t (2015) From Worlds to Cases: Case Selection and 'Other Worlds' in the Welfare Modelling Business. Social Policy and Society 14(2): 309-321.

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

Özbek, N (2006). Cumhuriyet Türkiyesinde Sosyal Güvenlik. Istanbul: Tarih Vakfi.

Zöllner D (1963) Öffentliche Sozialleistungen und wirtschaftliche Entwicklung: Ein zeitlicher und internationaler Vergleich. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot.